Albert Nolan OP
The question many are asking today is quite simply: why should we as Christians be concerned about environmental issues like climate change?
The simple answer is that we should be concerned because the first article of our faith is that God is the Creator of all that is. It stands at the head of all our creeds: “We believe in God the Creator of heaven and earth”.
Theologically, however, this has been the most neglected of all the articles of faith. The theology of creation has been eclipsed by the theology of redemption. Until about 50 years ago theologians didn’t think there was very much to say or to reflect upon as far as creation was concerned. We now know that that has been disastrous for the earth, for all God’s creatures on the earth and for us as human beings.
Yesterday’s theology of creation
Until about 50 years ago we had a very narrow, immature and unreflective theology of creation. We tended to see the universe as a place given to us to live in and a storehouse filled with things for our use, “natural resources” like food, fuel and building materials.
We often pictured ourselves as separate from the universe, standing above it, looking at God’s creation from somewhere outside of it. We tended to see ourselves as the lords and masters who had been given the right to dominate, subdue and exploit all of what we called “nature”. Some even saw this world as nothing more than a stepping stone on the way to heaven.
Creation in the Bible
But this is not what has been revealed to us in the Bible about God’s creation. In the creation stories as well as the Psalms and elsewhere including the gospels we are always seen as part of creation together with all other creatures. Because of our intelligence and freedom we are said to be created in the image and likeness of God so that we have a certain stewardship over the earth – not to dominate and exploit but to be responsible like God for the care of the earth. We subdue it only in the sense of tilling the land and cultivating it. We need to see the whole of creation as God sees it, that is to say as good in itself. “And God saw that it was good”.
In fact the most important thing the Bible tells us about creation is that it is a revelation of the glory of God. As we read in one of the Psalms: “The heavens proclaim the glory of God”. The great theologians and mystics of the past saw all of creation as a manifestation and revelation of God. You can find this explicitly in theologians like Thomas Aquinas and mystics like Hildegard of Bingen. Albert the Great who was fascinated by every tiny creature he came across declared that the whole world is theology for us, in other words, the whole world teaches us about God.
Much of this had been forgotten or neglected in recent centuries until suddenly we began to discover the astounding mysteries and miracles of the universe that God created – and ironically we discovered these things through modern science. At the same time we became aware of how we have been desecrating and destroying God’s magnificent work of art.
THE LATEST SCIENTIFIC DISCOVERIES
The recent discoveries of science far from creating problems for our faith, have enabled us to deepen our theology of creation immeasurably. Let me explain how and why.
What we now know is that God did not create all the billions of species of life separately and distinctly in the beginning. Species have evolved one from another, from single cell beings (prokaryotes) to homo sapiens. Some millions of these species have come and gone long ago. That has been and still is God’s way of creating life. God creates by evolving one thing from another.
As human beings we are part of God’s evolutionary creativity. We are indeed descendants of the apes, descendants of the very earliest forms of life in the oceans. We didn’t just fall out of the sky.
Our expanding universe
An even greater discovery about God’s creation was that we live in and are part of an expanding universe. Einstein discovered this. But it was so different from anything anyone had ever imagined before that Einstein himself thought that he must have made a mistake.
However at about the same time an astronomer called Hubble invented a very powerful telescope that enabled him to see that there was not only one galaxy, our galaxy, the Milky Way, but many more galaxies
and that all these galaxies were moving away from one another
at an incredible speed.
Today we know that there are hundreds of billions of galaxies each with billions of stars not to mention planets. And that is only what we have been able to see ever so faintly. Only God knows how many more galaxies there might be out there.
The “Big Bang”
This discovery of the extraordinary fact that the universe is forever expanding led scientists over the last 60 to 70 years, to begin to trace this developing universe backwards to earlier and earlier times, until they came to the beginning of the universe the original explosion of energy
which we call the Big Bang.
In other words it is not only life on earth that has evolved from the first living cell, but now we know that the whole universe has evolved from the first mighty explosion of energy some 15 billion years ago.
What God has created then is an unimaginably huge universe that began as a powerful explosion of energy and continues to unfold at the speed of light with no end in sight – and we are part of it.
At the same time Einstein and others had been exploring the microscopic world of the atom. This turned out to be even more surprising and mysterious than the expanding universe.
An atom is small – very small – and yet 90% of it is a vacuum, empty space. The rest is particles orbiting around and then jumping from one orbit to another without moving across. They called this the quantum leap. Eventually the scientists began to realise that they were not dealing with particles at all but with patterns or relationships that emerged from the nothingness of empty space and disappeared again into it. All very mysterious.
Besides, as Einstein had discovered earlier, matter can become energy and energy can become matter. Light can be treated as particles or as waves but in fact light is neither particles nor waves. It is beyond human comprehension. It is a mystery.
And we thought that the universe was just a place for us to live in and a source of food and fuel. Creation is an unfathomable mystery and we are part of it.
So far we have been talking about the universe as if it were a collection of objects – continuously evolving and expanding. But what the scientists are now saying is that the universe is not a collection of separate objects but a system of systems within systems. Every natural thing is in fact a system or organism and at the same time part of a larger system which in turn is part of a yet wider system. I, for example, am a very complex organism, a whole that has parts like organs that are organised as systems of cells and so forth, and I myself in turn am part of an eco-system and of a social system and so forth.
The unity and oneness of the world
There are no isolated individuals. We are all thoroughly interconnected and interdependent. God’s creation is a seamless whole. Everything is connected to everything else, past and present. Everything, but everything, goes back to the one original explosion of energy.
The other important conclusion from this is that there is only one world. The great Jesuit theologian and palaeontologist, Teilhard de Chardin, argued that matter and spirit are two aspects of the same universe. Matter and spirit have evolved and unfolded together from the beginning. There is no such thing as a physical or material world with no spirit at all.
TODAY’S THEOLOGY OF CREATION
But then, where is God? Certainly not in some separate, parallel spiritual world. Heaven, as we have always said, is not a place but a condition of life. Is God, then, outside or inside the universe? Of course, God in not in space and time, so God cannot be spoken of as inside or outside of anything. However in order to avoid thinking of God as existing in some other world and not in our world, theologians now, and to some extent in the past, speak of God as the One who is in all things. They call this panentheism as opposed to pantheism.
Pantheism is the belief that God is simply another word for the whole universe. But the creator is not the same as creation. Panentheism, on the other hand, is the conviction that God is everywhere and in everything all the time
One of the really powerful ways of expressing this in theology today is to say that creation is like God’s body. It is interesting to note that Thomas Aquinas said this nearly 800 years ago (I.II.17.8.ad 2).
I call this powerful because it allows us to see all of creation not only as a manifestation of the glory of God, not only as God’s great work of art, but also, metaphorically, as God’s sacred body. This means that when we show respect for the earth and the stars, for mountains and rivers, and for all living beings including humans, it is like showing respect for God’s own body.
What can we say then about the Fall? We speak of our fallen world. What about sin and evil?
The body of God, you might say, is wounded. This is powerfully symbolised in the wounded body of Jesus on the cross. Hunan beings are busy wounding God’s creation, destroying the earth, destroying one another, destroying the balance of nature, destroying the future of life and creating more and more conflict and chaos.
Why are we doing this? How did we come to this? How did we fall from the harmony and unity of God’s beautiful creation?
The Christian answer is that somewhere in the beginning of human consciousness and freedom we became alienated from God, from the earth, from nature, from one another and even from ourselves.
The great illusion
How did we do that? By developing the illusion that we as humans are separate from one another and from the rest of the universe. We began to imagine that we were above nature, independent and in control. We began to see ourselves as separate and isolated from one another. Hence, too, our illusion of being somehow independent of God.
It is all an illusion. It is all in the mind. But illusions can be extremely dangerous. While we are in fact all one and interdependent as we have seen, this illusion of separation and isolation has led to envies, jealousies, and violent conflicts. It has made us proud and self-centred. It has made us destructive – especially of nature and the earth. It has alienated us from God and enabled us to be totally disrespectful towards God’s creation, God’s holy body.
Our salvation then lies in our waking up from this self-centred dream and in our growing awareness of oneness. In practice this means love, an all-embracing love for our fellow human beings, as well as learning to love all living beings. We call this biophilia. This love and awareness of oneness will need to extend further, albeit in a different way, to all of God’s creation. So that we can speak, as Francis of Assisi did, of Brother Sun and Sister Moon. Nor should we forget to overcome our alienation from ourselves by learning to love ourselves.
All of this taken together will become an expression of our love for God. We will be showing a comprehensive reverence and respect for God’s body and therefore for God.
Our care for the environment, our concern about climate change and our adoption of new lifestyles should be seen then as part of our Christian faith and spirituality, our worship of God as the creator of all that exists.
NOTES ON THE SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL BY AUGUSTINE SHUTTE
Ideas from Vatican 2 that are specially relevant now:
1. its understanding of the notion of a Church
2. particular aspects of life within a Church
3. aspects of a Church’s relationship and mission to the world as a whole.
(Karl Rahner’s division of the themes and documents produced by Vatican 2)
Essentially a Christian Church is the mysterious communion a community of his followers has with Jesus and, through his influence, with each other. Although Jesus has died we believe in his real presence with and in us. This presence is realized in the spirit of love we have towards each other and expressed in the fullest way when we celebrate this ‘holy communion’ we have with him and each other in the Eucharist. Through this we come to share his insight into and inspiration by God, so our communion with him and each other is also a communion with God.
Vatican 2 expressed this idea in its novel definition of a Church: “By her relationship with Christ, a Church is a kind of sacrament (mysterion) or sign of intimate union with God and of the unity of all mankind. She is also an instrument for the achievement of such union and unity.” (LG, 1)
It also used the expression “People of God” to refer to every member of a Church as sharers in Jesus’ insight into and inspiration by God, and so as also responsible for his ‘prophetic, priestly and royal’ function in the world.
These ideas also bring out the point or purpose of a Church as being the same as that of Jesus, being achieved initially in us and thus giving us the mission to realize it for everyone.
Vatican 2 made it clear that everything else about a Church, its style of life, its spirituality, customs, ways of worship and organization was subsidiary to this. This was to be the standard of its Christian authenticity.
Making these ideas the foundation of its basic document on the idea of a Church was a deliberate attempt to move away from the dominant idea of the last couple of centuries: the idea of ‘the’ Church as an institution, a single world-wide organization whose head was the Bishop of Rome. This gave the impression that the local Christian communities were not really Churches but simply branches of the organization and their bishops merely delegates of the Bishop of Rome. It also gave the impression that Christians were in communion with Jesus and with God through Church officials, the bishops appointed by the Bishop of Rome, rather than directly with Jesus himself. Instead of this idea Vatican 2 attempted to return to a more traditional view that saw the world-wide Christian community, the ‘People of God’, as a communion of autonomous local Churches, each with a natural diversity of culture and way of life, but united in a common faith, hope and charity, a unity expressed by the collegiality of their local bishops with the bishop of Rome.
Vatican 2 produced a major development of doctrine by recognizing the presence of God’s saving grace in Christian bodies not in communion with the Church of Rome, in other religions, especially the biblical religions of Judaism and Islam, and in all people who tried to be good, even atheists.
It saw the contemporary mission of the Church of Rome, in the first place, as the necessity of making a commitment to ecumenism, to work for the restoration of Christian community between it and all the Christian bodies not in communion with it.
As regards other religions it recognized the duty of the Church and of Christians to recognize the truth and value of other traditions, to try and understand them better and to co-operate with them in a spirit of solidarity in working for peace and justice.
It also strongly affirmed the principle of freedom from any kind of coercion in the choice, expression and organization of religion, both for the individual and in the relationship between religions and government.
This included the freedom of all members of the Church to question and discuss matters of faith and morals. (GS 62)
As far as the contemporary world itself was concerned Vatican 2 singled out several characteristics that should be valued and developed. Probably the most important among these was the notion of the dignity of the human person. This idea formed the foundation for the way in which all the Council’s documents were formulated, even that on the Church itself. The idea of freedom, as well as that of individual rights, was intrinsically connected to this. There was also a recognition of the inevitable evolution and development of culture and society, even of the Church and the formulation of its faith. Connected to this last was the recognition of the plurality of cultures and the need for the inculturation of Christian faith in a diversity of ways. In particular it saw a need for development in the sphere of sexuality and of the rights of women. It recognized the autonomy of the sciences and the need for theology to engage with the new insights into humanity and the world that they provided. In the social, economic and political spheres the Church was to use its principle of the dignity of the human individual and the connected principle of the common good to ensure both freedom and solidarity in the pursuit of justice and peace.
Our Contemporary World-View:
Vatican 2 shows some recognition of the evolutionary nature of the world and even of human history, of the development of new knowledge of the world and of humanity, and even of Christian doctrine itself. But it did not really express in its documents an appreciation of the extent and depth of the way in which human communities and culture, and even consciousness, have developed during the last few hundred years. The name normally given to this development is secularization. That term is often taken to mean a rejection of religion but that is a mistake. In fact secularization is the completion of a process begun during the Axial period in the history of Israel and given its most radical expression by Jesus himself. It is best understood as the disappearance of the supernatural from people’s experience of the world. The notion of our god developed by the Old Testament prophets and given its ultimate expression by Jesus is of an absolutely transcendent being immanent in everything, human thoughts and acts included, giving it being and developing it towards its fulfillment. There is simply no room for supernatural forces or spirits on this view. Of course very few people, both before the time of Jesus and since, actually held this view or lived it. Primitive superstition and idolatry continued as the normal expression of religion as much in ‘Christian’ Europe as anywhere else. But gradually in a variety of ways the insight and inspiration of Jesus, lived out by his faithful followers in the Churches as well as by others outside them, permeated the culture of Europe so that today it has become the norm, apart from various forms of fundamentalism that struggle to return to the supernaturalist culture of the past and some forms of new-age spirituality.
The importance of this new world-view for contemporary Christians cannot be over estimated. But, though there are signs of it in the documents of Vatican 2, their dominant character is derived from that of the pre-modern times and cultures in which the creeds, the doctrines and the dogmas of Christianity were formulated. And still all but a handful of Christians hold and live their faith in terms of a supernaturalist view of the world, a world in which there is still a division between the sacred and the secular, a world of miracles and revelations, of divine interventions and apparitions. And in spite of the fact that the Vatican itself has made efforts to educate Church members, through scientific institutions set up to counteract the impression it gave the world through its treatment of Galileo and the discoveries of science ever since, the way priests are educated (not to mention the way they educate their parishioners) remains very much what it always was.
There are however signs of hope. Two years ago saw the completion of a twenty-year long research project initiated by the Vatican Observatory and the Centre for Theology and the Natural Sciences at Berkeley. The research project was entitled “Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action” and over the period of its activity produced six volumes of articles by distinguished scientists, philosophers and theologians on every conceivable aspect of the theme. In the final “capstone” volume the acronym NIODA was coined to designate a kind of consensus reached by this very varied group of participants. It stands for “non-interventionist objective divine action”. In the clearest possible way the project sought to eliminate every trace of the supernatural from our understanding of the way in which the Christian god exists and acts in the world and in human history. This non-interventionist notion was applied both to what is called general and to special divine action. General divine action refers to God’s creative and sustaining action in keeping us and the world in being. Special divine action refers to the particular events of salvation history, such as the Exodus of Israel from Egypt and, especially, the events of Jesus’ life and the history of the Churches. These too were seen as in no way interventions of God. What made them special was the fact that in them, so according to our faith, God’s purposes in creation were especially revealed and furthered. This then was an attempt by a Church-sponsored initiative to present a fully secular account of our religion.
The importance of this should be clear. The clearest signs of God’s presence and activity in our lives are the normal growth of human virtues and authentic human flourishing and fulfillment, of wisdom and love, freedom and solidarity. Genuine personal growth and authentic human community are signs of the presence and power of God’s Word and Spirit wherever they occur. One doesn’t have to know whether something comes from some or other supernaturally authenticated authority to know that it comes from God; one only has to know that it is good. The institutional Church is an expression of God’s activity in the world to the extent that it embodies human virtue and makes for genuine human flourishing through the insight and inspiration it has inherited from Jesus. The notion of revelation is indeed ambiguous. If it is thought of as some kind of intervention, something supernatural in some way, then it has no place in genuine religion. Real revelations always occur as insights in human minds according to their normal operation. Of course these are also always caused by God, as is everything we do or think. By calling them revelations we judge them to be ‘special’ acts of God, special in the sense that they give us true insight into his purposes in creation and in human affairs. One must not think that removing all trace of the supernatural from one’s world-view is a denial of the reality of God and God’s transcendence. On the contrary it is a recognition of the real transcendence of God as the immanent source of our existence, our consciousness and our freedom, the mystery in whom we live and move and have our being. This is the true meaning of mystery, not the extraordinary or miraculous but the transcendent depths of our existence, consciousness and freedom.
I have been at pains to describe the religiously important meaning of secularization as the process through which the world (beginning in Europe and spreading across the planet) has been going through during the last couple of hundred years. Of course like any historical development it is a process full of ambiguities. There are many negative aspects as well as positive ones. These must not however be allowed to obscure the salient aspect I have outlined here. For the removal of the supernatural from our view of the world has had an immediate result that is perhaps just as important for a contemporary understanding of our faith. In the pre-secular world-view in which all traditional religions were developed the world was seen as ruled by spiritual powers, some good, some evil; even God was often seen as one of these, merely the most powerful. During the modern period in European thought the rise of science progressively removed these spirits from nature. The result was often a materialist view of both nature and ourselves. But not always. There were thinkers who realised that the spirits of the pre-modern world-view, fantasies though they were, were in fact a sign of something real, something not in nature but in us. We ourselves had a spiritual character.
By uncovering the spiritual nature of persons these modern thinkers had in mind something very different from their medieval forebears. They were not thinking of human spirituality on the analogy of angels or devils or anything like that, but something much closer to home. They were thinking of our capacity for self-determination, our freedom from complete determination by the causes the new sciences were uncovering. The materialist thinkers thought of humanity as just another kind of object for scientific study; they tended to overlook that we are also subjects, subjects who create science and judge it. And as subjects we transcend the objects that we study and the causal laws that we discover. We are free.
These thinkers saw such freedom as both the most important fact about human nature and the most important value for human life. This insight finds beautiful expression by one of them in the following quotation from Pico della Mirandola’s Oration on the Dignity of Man. God is speaking to Adam:
“Neither a fixed abode nor a form that is yours alone nor any function peculiar to yourself have we given you Adam, to the end that according to your longing and according to your judgement you may have and possess what abode, what form, what functions you yourself shall desire. The nature of all other beings is limited and constrained within the bounds of laws prescribed by Us. You, constrained by no limits, in accordance with your own free will, in whose hand We have placed you, shall ordain for yourself the limits of your nature. We have set you at the world’s centre that you may from there more easily observe whatever is in the world. We have made you neither of heaven nor of earth, neither mortal nor immortal, so that with freedom of choice and with honour, as though the maker and moulder of yourself, you may fashion yourself in whatever shape you shall prefer.”
(Taylor 1989: 199-200)
This notion of humanity, by virtue of its power of self-determination, as being at the centre of the universe and the active agent of its transformation is a crucial positive element in the secular view of the world. This centrality of humanity to the secular world-view and the idea of our responsibility for the world is in fact really a novel way of understanding the biblical notion of humanity as being “the image of God”. And it is quite different from all pre-modern views where humanity is seen as subject to a whole realm of spiritual beings and by no means self-determining in this radical sense. And in this absence of all supernatural powers, of spiritual beings above and beyond the human, a new image of God begins to develop. In the pre-modern world-view God is pictured as outside or beyond the universe or as higher than the highest angelic beings. In the secular world-view it is more natural to think of God as at the centre of the universe as its inner spirit. But the centre of the universe is humanity, in the sense explained above. Hence that is where we must think of God, in us but deeper in us than we are ourselves. This does not imply that God is not present anywhere else, in nature for instance, but the full significance of the new religious vision will only become apparent once we have acquainted ourselves with the new cosmology that contemporary science provides us with and in which humanity appears as a microcosm of the universe as a whole. It too is an intrinsic element in the secular world-view.
The new conception of humanity as being at the centre of the universe as the subject and agent of its development, which is at the heart of the secular world-view, also occupies a central place in the documents of Vatican 2. In fact it appears in the novel definition of the Church that is the foundation of all the Council has to offer; the essence and the purpose of the Church has to do with the ‘unity of humanity’ and the way in which this unity depends on a ‘union with God’. And the most original and important document of all, Gaudium et Spes, The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Contemporary World, is actually addressed to “the whole of humanity” rather than to Catholics or Christians. Everything that this document has to say about the contemporary world, its character and its needs, is said in the light of the notion of “the dignity of the human person”. It is this idea that is the foundation for all its recommendations. It explicitly identifies humanity as a microcosm of the whole of creation (14) and its centre (12). And humanity’s flourishing and fulfillment is the standard for all the Church’s work. (26, 40) It is also the standard for authentic religion and hence the basis for the Council’s teaching regarding freedom of religion. From it is derived all universal human rights together with specific applications to the issues of social justice, the liberation of women, globalization and the conflict of cultures, economic development and care for the environment.
The world that engaged the attention of Vatican 2 and in terms of which it understood its mission was the product of an evolution of culture and consciousness and forms of community that has continued at an ever- increasing pace in the fifty years since then. Thus if we want to continue the process of aggiornamento begun by Vatican 2 we will have to take account of developments it never envisaged or was in a position to assess. We must also recognize that although there is much in the documents of Vatican 2 that is an appropriate assimilation of and response to the contemporary world and its culture, there is also a great deal that is not, but rather a relic of a pre-modern view of the world and formulation of Christian faith. And the same is true of the present teaching and practice of our Church. We still live in two mental worlds, the world of our religion which is still largely the world of pre-modern Europe combined with the ancient Middle East, and the world of our daily life which is quite different. Before we can properly decide how best to continue our aggiornamento we should take a look at the significant developments since Vatican 2.
Chief among these, and an intrinsic part of the secularization process itself, has been the ever-accelerating development of the natural, life and human sciences. The early modern materialist and determinist world-view has been replaced by an evolutionary one. The notion of evolution is now applied not only to the biological realm but also to the cosmos itself and, within that, to humanity and human history. In this quite general sense evolution is understood as a process of transcendence through transformation. Contemporary cosmology understands reality itself as a process of transcendence through transformation, the evolution of really new forms of being through the transformation of the beings that precede them. The source of such transcendence and the new forms of reality that come into being, as indeed the continuing source of the evolving universe itself, remains a mystery for science. As does the fact that evolution appears to have a unity of direction: it is always from simplicity and multiplicity towards ever-greater complexity and unity. Humanity, as the most complex form of reality known to us, is thus a microcosm of what has gone before in the fourteen billion years the universe has existed, containing all the less complex forms of reality within itself transformed and integrated into a more fundamental unity.
The unity of personhood (which we touched on in discussing the centrality of humanity in the secular world-view) that we find in humanity transcends all simpler, less complex forms of reality but nevertheless requires them in order to exist and express itself in distinctively human ways. The universe itself is focused on this unity, existing in a new way in the minds of persons and continuing its development in their acts and freedom. The impersonal realm of nature, as well as the social and cultural realm created by human history, now exists as the milieu for personal growth and community. This unity of the universe revealed by contemporary cosmology, and its personal character, is an eloquent pointer to the significance of Christian faith in a personal creator, and could provide us with an appropriate framework for a contemporary reformulation of Christian doctrine and a better foundation for renewing the life of the Church.
The secularization process and the modern development of science and technology (together with industrialization) in Europe have now spread across the world. This contemporary phenomenon is usually referred to as globalization. One of the effects of this is the spread of a scientific and secular culture, with both its positive and negative characteristics. In most places this culture becomes dominant, often weakening or even destroying local traditional cultures in the process. And it is usually the negative aspects of scientific secular culture that predominate – materialism (both theoretical and practical), the loss of a moral sense and a respect for nature. Money replaces social ties as a source of security. At the same time the whole world is increasingly connected by the various means of communication, resulting in a huge increase in awareness of what is going on in other places and of other societies and cultures. So at the same time as increasing the means of realizing the unity of humanity globalization increases our awareness of our diversity.
In the sphere of religion and spirituality we see different reactions to this process. On the one hand there are such movements as the Parliament of the World’s Religions. This is an organization that is committed to fostering dialogue and solidarity among the religious and spiritual movements of the world in the service of true unity and peace. The basis for this unity and peace is seen as the humanum, namely the humanity common to all that should serve as a standard for all religions and spiritualities and whose flourishing and fulfillment they should have as their aim. And although this implies a core of common values to which all should subscribe (a “World Ethic”) it in no way implies a uniformity of outlook or practice. A certain limitlessness inherent in human personhood entails that no one tradition could exhaust the forms of its expression. In the contemporary secular culture we also find a reaction to its materialism in a new search for ways of living a more spiritual life. This search takes many forms. At one extreme are various forms of fundamentalism that attempt to return to world-views of past ages when many religious traditions began. At the other extreme new religions and spiritualities are created that are felt to be more suited to our times. Often these are fanciful and superstitious, relying on esoteric insights and ‘supernatural’ powers of various kinds. Most of them have in common a rejection of the authority of traditional systems of spiritual thought and practice.
In the realm of ethics contemporary culture and society present us with both new and important insights and opportunities and also mistaken and dangerous attitudes and practices. There are at present salient ethical issues that need urgently to be addressed. Probably the most far-reaching is that of gender relations, namely the recognition of the equality and complementarity of women and men in every sphere of human life. Linked to but distinct from this fundamental issue is that of our sexual and family life. Then there is the problem of poverty, a new problem in that the scientific and technological means to ending it now exist but are not adequately implemented. Linked to this is the issue of our treatment of nature and its resources. And last but not least there is the issue of political conflict of various kinds, and the conflicting ideologies that this involves.
With these things in mind we turn now to consider things that WACSA should try and help the Churches to do in order to further the aggiornamento begun by Vatican 2 in ways that are more appropriate in the contemporary world.
Seeing God as present and active everywhere in the world, and especially following Jesus’ insight into and inspiration by God as the continuing source of our lives, the light of our minds and the love in our hearts, we should commit ourselves to engaging wholeheartedly in God’s ongoing work of creation. This we now see as an evolutionary process in which the unity of humanity in freedom and solidarity is progressively achieved in a world transformed by human science and technology into a hospitable home where we can be with God and God will be “all in all”. This is the ultimate purpose and mission of the Churches. Through their relationship with Jesus, his insight and inspiration, they are “experts in humanity” (to use Pope Paul’s apt expression). And so their primary function is to foster human flourishing and fulfillment in every sphere of life, from the most interior to the most external.
In the realm of spirituality we need first of all to work for the unity of all Christians in a worldwide communion of Churches. In our contemporary diversity of cultures such unity will not entail uniformity of way of life and liturgy or even doctrine. It will however of necessity be a unity of faith, hope and love. And this will imply a common core of teaching as to faith and morals. But in the light of our new insight into the way in which all thought, like every aspect of culture, is part of a continuously developing understanding of truth in such matters, we hope to encourage continuing reflection on and discussion of the fundamentals of our faith. Christian faith, as a total attitude of a person to the person of Jesus, has volitional and emotional as well as cognitive elements. But its cognitive expression is always relative to a particular culture and in a particular language. And in our contemporary situation there is an urgent need for ways of formulating our faith that are appropriate in a secular and scientific culture and not tied to world-views from the past. We need to avoid all forms of fundamentalism and superstition, especially those that are typical of our own Churches.
When it comes to our relationship to other religions we must be open to whatever truth and goodness they embody and be prepared to be self-critical about our own traditional beliefs and practices. Our contact and dialogue with other faith traditions must be based on a mutual respect for the values inherent in our common humanity so that we can all co-operate in working for human flourishing and fulfillment. Christians ought to be leaders in the many inter-faith movements and organizations that now exist.
The realm of ethics includes both Church and world and deals with our attempts to foster personal growth and community in every sphere of human life. The most fundamental of these is the sphere of gender. It must not be imagined that gender is a superficial feature of our humanity, as though we were all the same underneath our male or female shape. Only dualists could believe that. The difference is not a merely physical or biological difference, but a difference in our way of being persons, affecting every aspect of our lives. A consistent materialist would recognise this. But in practice many materialists, in order to preserve equality, make gender and personhood a cultural rather than a natural thing. Human nature is seen as merely biological. Against both dualist and materialist I want to maintain that gender is a natural difference between men and women and that it affects every level of our being. This fact is so important for the ethics of gender that one must be very careful how one understands it. Men and women, though equally human, equally persons, are differently such. In fact the humanity of men and women must be seen as complementary. Complementary not simply in the biological sense for the conception of a child, but in all respects – in a fully human, personal way as well.
Complementarity and equality are thus the two basic principles of ethics in the sphere of gender. Equality is basic because both mean and women are equally personal. Complementarity is basic because they are differently so. Who can doubt that all our social arrangements, our laws, our institutions, our customs and practices would be different if in living memory women had had as much public power, power in the major institutions that form our society, as men have. Imagine a society in which men and women were present in roughly equal numbers in all the highest positions of authority in government, the police and army, in education, in law and health-care. And especially in religion, especially in the Churches. It is difficult to imagine what it would be like, but it would certainly be radically different. And can one doubt that it would be more humane? The Churches have a duty to put this right.
In the sphere of sexuality and family life the ethical standard is the same as for every other sphere of human life, namely authentic personal growth and community. And the most complete form of sexual friendship for both homosexual and heterosexual partners is the form of personal community usually called marriage. Ideally this form of sexual friendship is both exclusive and permanent. It is only under those conditions that an unconditional commitment to equality and complementarity can find full expression. And like any form of friendship the quality of a marriage depends on the values that the partners share. The highest value is of course personhood itself, and this is beautifully expressed in the procreation and education of a child. It can however find expression in other ways, when for whatever reason bringing up a child is not possible. Quite apart from adoption, any common commitment to some project of care would be appropriate. So many different psychological and social factors enter into the sphere of sexuality and family life that Churches should be very careful to prescribe fixed rules in this sphere. Better always to present the ideal of personal growth and community in the most attractive way one can, and show both compassion and forgiveness when dealing with difficulties and even tragic situations that so often occur here. The experience and wisdom of married people, homosexual and heterosexual, should be the basis for our understanding and judgement.
We come now to consider the ethical issues arising in the sphere of society as such, those relating to the economy and the environment and to politics, and the responsibilities of Christians and the Churches in this sphere. Here since we are dealing with institutions we must also take into account that the worldwide communion of Churches has of necessity an institutional form. This form has changed often over the centuries and will certainly need to change again if it is to engage fruitfully with the contemporary world.
When I speak of politics in this connection I am thinking of the political sphere in the widest sense, the whole sphere of human power and authority over other people. Human power is of course also coercive physical power or it is not power at all. But it is human insofar as it is connected to ideas about its use, to law and to authority. It is authorisation that gives people political power over others and authorisation is a matter of law. Because its aim is a true community of humanity the institutionalized Church is of necessity deeply involved in the political organization of the human community. Political organization is clearly necessary if there is to be a true community of humanity. Even in a sinless world, the regulation of people by means of law for the common good would be necessary. And such regulation must always be the fruit of certain forms of agreement between people based on their conceptions of what is good. Furthermore, in the world as it is now, it is important that such values, agreements, laws be protected by force. So institutions must exist for making, carrying out and enforcing laws. It is in this institutional milieu as it presently exists that we need to clarify the function of the Church as an institution.
Because true human community can only be created by a transcendent power and because the Church is ‘the sacrament’ of this power in the world it cannot be subordinate to any political institution. Of its nature it transcends such institutions and therefore its political influence ought to too. The Church as an institution transcends the state (I mean the ultimate political authority) in two ways. The laws of the state are ultimately to be judged by the Church: no state is entitled to make laws that contradict the essentials of Christian faith concerning the nature of human needs and how we ought to live. Secondly, the Church, though it is part of its mission to the world to exist in every state (where there are a plurality of states), it does not do so as part of the state. The first loyalty of members of the Church is to the Church and not to the state. As a consequence it is always wrong for a state to proscribe the Church or to pretend that its authorisation depends on the state’s decree.
Seeing the Church in this way, as a supra-national but institutional expression of the whole of humanity, is of the utmost importance for understanding its political role in the creation of a true human community. Our membership of an institution like this proclaims our membership of the community of humanity that is coming into existence. We give our ultimate loyalty to that community rather than to our own political unit. We also give political expression to our Christian faith. There are two sides to the political life of a Christian, a critical and a creative. In relation to the actual political institutions that organize society a Christian has a critical function to exercise. Political institutions tend at once to be both partial and totalitarian. They serve the interests of some at the expense of others; and they are animated by a self-aggrandizing dynamism: they are never powerful enough. These two features are the political expression of sin and the political life of the Christian is a war against these tendencies. As far as an actual political programme is concerned, it seems clear that the typical form of political organization in the world at the moment, the more or less autonomous nation-state, is a thoroughly bad one. It is a perfect vehicle for both totalitarianism and partiality: it is both too big and too small.
A plurality of states, such as exists at the moment, each claiming economic and military autonomy, is the enemy of both peace and justice. Increasingly the world is forming, and ought to form, one economic community. And it ought to form one political community too, at least in certain respects. A world government of some kind is needed for the control and development of basic resources, the financial integrity of the world community and the organization of police. I speak of police rather than the military, since once a plurality of states is done away with, private armies on the present model would cease to exist. A police force however is a practical necessity and it should be a single worldwide organization. It would have to be armed but the arms would be such as to deal with purely local law enforcement. Large scale weaponry, the means of war, should be outlawed. One of the essential foundations of a world government would be law against the production of not only nuclear but all weapons of war.
At the same time as this centralization of certain powers in a world government, there should be an opposite movement to develop government at regional and municipal level. The spheres of influence of this kind of local government would be different from that of the central government and hence so would its powers. There would be room for diversity according to local culture and conditions. So the kind of dispensation towards which the Church should guide humanity is something at once much larger and much smaller than what we have at present. Its aim in this is to counter the influence and exploitation of people both by unfettered large-scale selfishness (multi-national business enterprises) and also by fundamentally inhuman principles built into systems of law (police states of left and right). At the same time as acting as a critic of political power, a watch-dog and guide-dog combined, the Church has a creative role in the formation of public opinion, which in the last resort is the ultimate source of political authority. It has the duty of setting the public mind free from manipulating propaganda of all kinds.
If the attitude of faith is what it claims to be, Christians should be especially sensitive to falsehood, especially the falsehood that serves the purposes of selfish power. This influence on public opinion need not only be exercised through preaching in a liturgical context or through statements by Church officials. It can have a wider influence through the arts and literature and in every field where institutional reform is undertaken and discussion of our styles of life goes on. Every institution, however humble, in its effect on the lives of those influenced by it is either for or against a true community of humanity. It is the Christian’s difficult but fascinating calling to discern the spirits of the institutions in which we live, to see whether they make for human solidarity or not. This aspect of the Church’s work in the world is carried on especially in educational institutions such as universities and schools. In such a milieu the aim of the Church is to create a spirit that embodies the Christian virtues while respecting the integrity and autonomy of the different disciplines. Unlike other institutions in society the Church is concerned with the whole person at the deepest level of their life, and the development of a comprehensive culture that will not be a barrier to true human community. Special skills and fields of research are subordinate to that. All the arts and every form of entertainment create a cultural world in which values take on powerful symbolic forms that move the imagination and educate the emotions. So the Church is intimately involved in this sphere of life. Visions of joy, of goodness, of human flourishing and its opposite are presented continuously in the mass media. The Church’s presence in this milieu is necessary if a totally illusory conception of happiness is not to dominate people’s minds.
I am describing the mission of the Church in the different spheres of life that make up the human world. Of necessity my treatment of this theme has to be both very brief and very general. Because of this I may give the impression that in speaking of the Church as an institution I am speaking only of Church officials. That is not my intention. I mean what I say to refer to the mission that every member of the Church acquires simply by becoming a member of the Church as an institution. Church officials exercise their official functions in the Church as an institution and not in the world of which it is part. This point is of special importance in the political sphere. As well as the political activity of Church officials on behalf of the Church there will be the active involvement in politics of the individual members of the Church. And sometimes being faithful followers of Jesus in this sphere will mean the use of force, force exercised in the spirit of Jesus’ love for humanity and according to his insight into our true needs. Pacifism however will always be the preferred approach.
We come now finally, in our consideration of the different spheres of life in their relation to the Church’s mission, to the sphere of our relationship to the non-human realm, our work and care for nature. The non-human world is a setting for humanity, a means to human life and a medium for human communication. As the image of our transcendent creator, humanity’s relation to the non-human world is a creative one. This creativity is expressed in two different ways. First of all it is expressed in labour, the transformation of the material environment to make a home for the human family. Man doesn’t live by bread alone, but he needs bread in order to live. Secondly, human creativity is expressed in art, the transformation of the material environment to produce beauty, the visible, tangible, audible, glory of everything that is good.
So as humankind is both artisan and artist, the earth is to be the material both for our artefacts and our works of art. The various arts by means of which we transform our material milieu are also means of communicating with each other, and so they serve to bring about community as well as to express and celebrate it. Sport and games do the same thing at another level. At the ‘Second Coming’ when sacraments will cease, art and games will not. Worship and play are both ends in themselves, not means to anything else, and well fitted to go on forever. There is in the artistic creations of humanity something that will not die. Donatello’s David may not have an incorruptible soul but it will rise again in some form or other at the resurrection on the last day. In our resurrection bodies we may no longer need bread but we will need beauty.
Science and technology find their Christian meaning in their ability to make the world a home for humanity. They represent the sheer power of human creativity. The moral imagination must supply the principles, one of which is the notion that the earth and all its resources is the property of all. Even one’s labour is the property of all. The fact that one has used one’s labour-power to transform a particular part of one’s material environment does not give one a right to dominion over it. The basis for rights is the role the earth has to play in the creation of human community. It is the source of the minimum conditions necessary for personal growth, of everything we need to be alive and clear-headed, with a reasonable range of options open to us. As each of us is the object of God’s unconditional love, none of us can be considered as of less value than any other. We all have the highest possible value. Hence the importance of the notion of equality in our commerce with the material world. We do have different needs and different capacities so the maxim “from each according to his talents, to each according to his needs” is sound. But it is only sane within the vision of a fundamental equality of rights and responsibilities in relation to the material world. Apart from any relevant distinctions, we all have an equal responsibility to make the world a homely place and an equal right to enjoy its home comforts. Hence the duty, under the reign of sin, to struggle against huge inequalities of opportunity to live a fully human life. This is the duty of development, of transforming the physical environment in such a way that it can provide the means of a humane life for all. But if this project is to be carried out in a Christian way the ultimate values of true human community must guide it. It is better to have a fairly simple diet but to be able to read and have access to a good library, than to have access to an unlimited variety of food and no education and no libraries. The ultimate aim of technology is to create, in the words of Ivan Illych, “tools for conviviality”, not just more and more refined means to physical satisfaction and security.
We have been examining the form taken by Christian life in the different spheres in which human life is lived. And in the course of this we have been piecing together a picture of the work of the Church as an institution in the world. The functions of the Church in the world are derived from its relation to the community of humanity that was Jesus’ purpose to create. Because it is a human institution with this transcendent connection, the Church is said to be ‘in the world but not of it’. It is part of the status quo but points beyond it, beyond any conceivable status quo, however apparently perfect. It is in the world precisely to transform the world so as to make it a home for a true community of humanity. The Church as an institution is thus rather like an underground, a resistance movement, which is of necessity at odds with the occupying power but which has the good of the people at heart, which is to a large extent hidden but which seeks both to influence people’s minds and to get rid of oppressive institutions so as to bring about their liberation.
If one accepts a model such as this (and it is only a model) as being true to the essential character of the Church, then it would seem that the Church as it exists in the developing world of the twenty-first century is in need of reformation. The Church is an institution in a world of institutions and the influences between them and it go both ways. And it would seem clear that the social and political history of Europe has influenced the Church’s institutional structure as much as the faith of the Church has shaped European culture. And from the perspective of a South African viewpoint on the boundary between the developed and undeveloped parts of the world, it seems clear that this structure is actually preventing the Church from being the underground, the resistance movement, it ought to be in the service of the “unity of humanity in union with God”.
In the age of emperors the Church was ordered like an empire, in the age of kings like a monarchy. Now, in an age of centralized bureaucracy it has taken on the form of a centralized bureaucracy, like either a multi-national corporation or a national security state. One element is common to all three stages of this history: centralization. And with centralization go the dangers that we have already drawn attention to in our treatment of politics: totalitarianism and partiality, two sides of the same counterfeit coin. In the contemporary Church the centralized power is exercised by a huge Roman bureaucracy. For “pope” read “the holy see”. The new Code of Common Law says as much in so many words (The Code of Canon Law, Canon 361). The curial bureaucracy with the pope at its head now exercises the papal power, and this is especially serious since legitimate papal power – in its own field – is so great. It must also be remembered that papal power is not a power of government at all, but one that stems from the sacramental nature of the Church. Now however this power is exercised by a papal bureaucracy to govern the Church in all the major details of its life. The effect of such a system is slowly to deaden the spiritual vitality of the local Churches and their leaders, who lose their sense of responsibility and autonomy. The effect of this is a loss of that solidarity that is crucial in any underground and necessary to its integrity. Such a system must be reformed. It is probably true that if this deformity is healed then most of the other ailments that prevent the Church from fulfilling its proper function in the world will be cured as well. The question is: what shall we put in its place? What follows is my suggestion.
My idea of the organization of the Church as an institution suitable to its existence as Jesus’ underground in the contemporary world is based on two ancient ideas from the Christian theological tradition: catholicity and koinonia. As I understand it the idea of catholicity is that each local church is a realization of everything that the Church is. The universal institutional Church is no more than the communion of local churches; it does not in any way constitute a super-Church. This idea derives from the the sacramentality of the Church and is focused on the local bishop. On its own such an image is inadequate. What more is required is supplied by the conception of koinonia. By koinonia I understand a kind of solidarity whereby unity is achieved by the mutuality and reciprocity involved between those who are linked together. Each is linked to each by virtue of sharing in the same life. It is in creating institutional structures to express this koinonia between local churches that the reformation of the Church I am suggesting would consist in. Briefly, it is this. Dioceses should be made much smaller, as small perhaps as the average suburban parish in developed countries. At the same time the normal unit for the Sunday celebration of the eucharist should shrink to a group of twenty or thirty families. In this way one’s sense of membership of the Church will be derived from belonging to a group that is a real human community. The immediate effect of such a restructuring of the Church will be to multiply by many times the numbers of bishops and priests in the Church. And this will have a far-reaching effect on the way the episcopal and priestly offices are exercised. Virtually all priests, for instance, will be worker-priests. They will earn their livelihood by means of a secular job. Very few of them will be trained in the way or to the degree that our present clergy is. As far as the inter-diocesan organization of the Church is concerned there will also be a significant change. The large number of bishops in the universal Church will make the sort of centralization that is now considered normal impossible. In the place of a centralized bureaucracy, there should be set up regional councils of bishops, the regions being determined by one or other non-ecclesial factor such as common language or geographical position or political unity. Such regions, from the Church’s point of view, needn’t have a permanent geographical boundary but can be modified from time to time as conditions require. Nevertheless each bishop in the Church, and therefore each priest, would be domiciled in a region. There would of course be all sorts of functions and offices that would benefit from centralization. For this reason a permanent episcopal council (chaired by the bishop of Rome we would hope) should be set up consisting of elected delegates from each region. This council would constitute the ultimate teaching and executive authority in the worldwide communion of Churches. Its competence would be limited to certain absolutely fundamental matters so as not to interfere with the autonomy of the regions, but its decisions within these limits would be binding on all the Churches. It is important to notice that the central council of bishops in Rome would not constitute a continuous government of the Church in the way in which the papacy now does. Apart from the ill effects of such centralized government there is no need for it in a world where communication is as easy as it has now become. There is however the need for a continuous collaboration and assessment of new developments, and this such a council would provide. This sketch for reform is no doubt speculative. But I do not think it can be doubted that some such widespread restructuring is required if the Church is to be the sign for our times of the “unity of humanity in union with God” so dear to the heart of Vatican 2.
SCIENCE AND SPIRITUALITY – WHERE IS THE CONFLICT
BY MAGS BLACKIE , 2014
I want to begin tonight with a question – do you believe in God?
If the answer to the first question is yes – then take a few moments to consider why you believe in God? What kind of evidence do you draw on?
The first thing to say – this talk is probably not what you expect it will be I am not going to be focusing on the cosmology, evolutionary biology or the new creation story.
Whilst there are several well-known authors who comprise new Atheist movement, the strongest voice in the science and spirituality conversation is renown evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. The other principle figures – sometimes known as the four horsemen of the apocalypse – are the late Christopher Hitches, Daniel Dennet and Sam Harris. Of these, only Sam Harris is also a scientist. Hitchens was a journalist, and Dennet is a philosopher. Before we proceed, it is important to say unequivocally, that Richard Dawkins is a leading scientist. He has been honoured as a scientist and as an evolutionary biologist by multiple universities, and he is a Fellow of the Royal Society, he won multiple prestigious awards – The Faraday Award, the Michael Faraday Prize and the International Cosmos Prize among others. All this by way of saying, that Richard Dawkins is a well respected scientist. He is probably most well known in biological circles for proposing the idea that the gene is the central element of evolution, rather than the organism. That genes have shaped organisms in such a way as to ensure their replication into the next generation. For Dawkins, what drives evolution is the survival of the gene, not survival of the species. This argument is contentious, and has been a matter of debate in the field of evolutionary biology – the debate still continues and has not yet been laid to rest.
Within a scientific community, how is this argument laid to rest? Well, the development of scientific theory relies on empirical evidence. We have an idea of how something might work, we then go about conducting experiments which will provide evidence to substantiate (or refute) our position. The thinking goes along the kinds of lines – if this is the case, then we would think that this particular experiment would end in this particular result. And we continue to conduct experiments to prove this hypothesis. Now, scientifically, we could have performed a million different experiments, all of which prove our hypothesis, and we may even go so far as to call it a fact. But we have to be aware that our scientific experimentation is always limited. Part of the scientific process is removing problematic variables, precisely so that we can test what we think are actually testing.
One of the challenges in the scientific endeavor is that we can be quite easily blinded by the paradigm. At the end of the 19th century it was thought that the discipline of physics was pretty much wrapped up. Classical mechanics could adequately describe and predict the movement of complex systems. Thermodynamics and kinetic theory were being put to good use in industry, and the understanding of the electromagnetic spectrum explained a good deal of geometrical and physical optics. The conservation laws of energy and momentum covered the rest. Physics to the extent to which we had permeated our understanding of the nature of matter was complete. However, around about 1900 two tricky problems emerged – neither of which could be explained by any of the existing theory. –The problem of blackbody radiation and the problem of the photoelectric effect. Up until this point matter was thought to be continuous – the Rutherford’s famous gold leaf experiment is a good example. In the early part of the twentieth century scientists had got to the point of accepting that atoms existed, and that the atom was comprised of positively and negatively charged bits (protons and electrons). But they didn’t know how the atom was held together. The so-called ‘plum pudding’ model of the atom was widely accepted – that is that there were regions of positive charge (the plums) held in a negative matrix (the cake bit of the plum pudding). In the gold leaf experiment, Rutherford (or his students!) fired alpha particles (very small, positive charged particles) at a very thin film of gold. If the plum pudding model was correct, almost all the alpha particles would have slightly diverted from their original path – as they came close to a positive charge in the gold leaf, they would have been slightly repelled. But that isn’t what happened. The majority of the alpha particles passed straight through the gold leaf without any diversion. Some of the alpha particles were diverted through a few degrees, but most stunningly a few appeared to bounce back towards the detector. As Rutherford later said, ‘It was like firing a mortar shell at tissue paper and having it bounce back’. Of course, given what we now know about the structure of the atom – those few alpha particles had hit a nucleus straight on and had been deflected back. But the point here, is that it took this kind of experiment to prove that matter is not continuous.
The point of all of this is to say, that science is a process of using empirical evidence to provide more and more accurate explanations for the phenomena we observe. And there is an important objectivity in the process. I can take a research paper written in Greenland, and carry out the experiments which they have described and I should get similar results.
There is therefore a common agreement on what ‘counts’ as scientific knowledge, or perhaps better scientific information. It has to be the kind of data which is reproducible. What counts as a scientific ‘fact’ is the best possible explanation to hand. A theory which can explain a greater number of physical phenomena is usually a better theory. The most powerful theories are those which have explanatory power over wide phenomena – quantum theory for example. Theories also have predictive power – so for example the existence of the Higgs’ boson was predicted by Peter Higgs in 1964 – it was only in 2012 – after the construction of the Large Hadron Collider in 2008 that the equipment necessary to detect the Higgs boson even existed.
The point to all of this, is that is a specific scientific paradigm. And there an associated epistemology – that is there is a common agreement of what counts as scientific investigation and what counts as verifiable data.
Religion or spirituality are not, and will never be, able to stand up to the rigors of scientific investigation. Spirituality resides in a qualitatively different realm. We may have sufficient historical evidence to prove that there was such a person as Jesus of Nazareth, that he was crucified, that a religious movement began after his death which can be seen to be the historical foundation of the religion we now call Christianity. Not even Richard Dawkins would bother to dispute that.
But if I consider my own faith, I can no more prove God’s existence than I can fly. For all we know about the historical Jesus, we have no evidence which would bear scientific scrutiny, to substantiate our claims that Jesus is the son of God. When I examine my own faith, I can claim and I do claim that I have had experience of what I call ‘encounter with God’. But those experiences are entirely subjective. I can tell you where I was when I was praying, I can tell you what Scripture passage I was praying with, I can tell you what grace I happened to be praying for, but not one of us would expect another person to have a similar encounter with God if another person followed the same procedure. We cannot even expect to have the same experience ourselves, two days in a row praying with the same material.
Dawkins’ objections to religion are that religion serves no good purpose. Before the development of good scientific investigations religion did serve some kind of explanatory purpose. This is the well known God of gaps time theology – we don’t quite understand how this came about, so we attribute its origins to the intention and action of the divine.
Most people who
Mistakes people of faith make in considering science:
a) The God of the gaps: as science is able to explain more and more of what we know about our universe people of faith look for a ‘gap’ in which to insert God. For example, we don’t know how the molecules of life – amino acids, carbohydrates and nucleic acids managed to organize themselves. Science does not yet have an explanation, so people of faith say ‘Ah, that is where God was at work’. As though it were necessary for our faith for God to be explicitly involved in a step of creation in order for us to believe in God. The problem with that is that sooner or later science will come up with an adequate explanation of how that happened and God will be ejected. As Dawkins so derisively puts it ‘and some magic happens here’. It is not necessary for faith that God be an essential component of scientific explanation. When we try to shove God in there we look like fools, because in inserting God into such a process, we betray the power of science and the real promise of faith.
b) Wonder or complexity = God at work: The mistake here has a few strands. Firstly, as a person of faith, when we experience wonder, we immediately move into prayer – some expression of gratitude to God. The first mistake is to presume that an atheist cannot experience wonder – because if they did they would find faith. This is simply not true.
Dawkins’ has two principle objection to religion – firstly that it is rationally indefensible. Secondly, that religion is the cause of much of the conflict and trauma in today’s world.
I’ll return to the rationally indefensible argument – because I want to engage with that in an interesting way. The second issue is not trivial, but much of the issue here is not religion per se but when fundamentalism. We only need to look at ISIS – or indeed the Ku Klux Klan – or indeed here in South Africa, to look at the way in which religion was used in a way that was really a perversion of power. Religion always has to be on the defense against such twisting. It is very easy for someone of influence to pervert the intent of sacred texts. We think of Buddhism for example as being completely pacifist, but even now there are certain sects of Buddhism which are using violence to achieve political power.
The issue is not with religion per se, it is with humanity. The problem of course, is amplified with fundamentalism, because any fundamentalist sect will insist on unquestioning acceptance and blind commitment.
I remember several years ago I had a conversation with a man who belonged to a sect which whilst they call themselves Christian, they do not believe in the doctrine of the Trinity. I was sitting next to him on an overseas flight and he used at least a few hours trying to convince me by quoting chapter and verse that my soul was in danger because I was clinging to this ‘false doctrine’. I’m fairly analytical and I can follow a logical argument so I realized that neither of us could actually be sure who was right. There was no way to prove anything, both of us were interpreting writings in a particular, but a contrasting manner. But what brought the conversation to a close was that I said ‘The thing is, I honestly don’t know whether the Trinity exists in the manner in which all mainstream Christian churches claim or not. But my experience of God is such that I don’t believe that God is going to condemn for believing that particular doctrine. However, all I know of God, through my personal experience leads me to believe that God is a loving God and is not going to be too fussed about those kinds of details.’ Needless to say my companion was not satisfied. Uncertainty was not a part of his theology. He needed to be right and for me to be wrong. My companion simply could not accept that his stance was also an interpretation.
The point I wish to return to now is Dawkins point that belief in God is simply not necessary in our understanding of the world. He happily applies Ockham’s razor – if we attribute the complexity of our universe to the action of a deity we are still left with the question of where the deity comes from. Ockham’s razor requires us to go for the simpler answer.
Now, I attended a talk a few weeks ago by a man called Iain McGilchrist. Iain McGilchrist is a psychiatrist who offers an interesting thesis. He has written a book entitled ‘The Master and his emissary’ on the functioning of the two different halves of the brain.
‘The left hemisphere, we learnt, was rational and linguistic, while the right hemisphere was pink and fluff, emotional, creative, vague and given to painting pictures.’
In fact there is a difference between the two hemispheres – but it is an issue of focus. The left hand side of the brain is more mechanical, more focused, and tends to discard anything which does not fit into the system it creates to make sense of the world. The desire to understand cause and effect is driven by the left hand side of the brain. The left hand side of the brain can make no sense of metaphor, and favours symbol over reality. The virtual world over the real world. Etc.
The right hand side of the brain favours the big picture – connections are made by intuition rather than logical necessity. Metaphor, the appreciation of poetry, the sense of wonder are all located in the right hand side of the brain. The right hand side of the brain picks out relational aspects.
In order for a human flourishing, both sides of the brain are necessary. Both sides of the brain are vital. However McGilchrist argues that since the Enlightenment spurred on by the Industrial Revolution we have begun to give greater weight to the left side of brain. And that this is highly problematic because the left hemisphere relies heavily on a mechanized model for interpretation of the world.
‘The left hemisphere sees truth as interior coherence of the system, not correspondence with the reality of experience.’ The divided brain and the search for meaning – the paradox of the division – in order to move from here to the door I need to cover half the distance first, and a quarter of the distance before that, etc. So I never move. This is consistent with the rules of logic, but not with experience.
‘The left hemisphere tells us that the quest for meaning is meaningless, because it is not equipped to deal in meaning or understanding, but manipulating and processing.’
‘Our problem is not that we have failed to find an answer to the question of the meaning of life that would satisfy the left hemisphere – in the nature of things, no such answer could exist. Our problem is that we have allowed ourselves to respond to this failure by deriding the question as meaningless. We shouldn’t be trying to find a glib, explicit answer to it, since any such answer would be bound to be wrong. Meaning emerges from engagement with the world, not from abstract contemplation of it.’
Now, why is this so important, well again, if we return to Dawkins – a little earlier this year, he published an article in the Huffington Post entitled ‘Are there emotional no-go areas where logic dare not show its face?’ – the article was a response to some interactions on Twitter – He writes
‘I believe that, as non-religious rationalists, we should be prepared to discuss such questions using logic and reason. We shouldn’t compel people to enter into painful hypothetical discussions, but nor should we conduct witch-hunts against people who are prepared to do so.’
I apologise for using this rather sensitive example, but it is the one that he uses – he had made a tweet on what constitutes ‘worse’ in terms of the experience of rape. His tweet read
‘Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knifepoint is worse. If you think that’s an endorsement of date rape, go away and learn how to think.’
HIs argument continues that he could have equally written the reverse
‘Stranger rape at knifepoint is bad. Date rape is worse. If you think that’s an endorsement of stranger rape, go away and learn how to think.’
The point he is trying to make is that we should be able to argue rationally about the objective difference between these two experiences and should be able to come to some agreement as to which is worse.
If we look at what he is trying to do the McGilchrist lens of the overemphasis of the left hemisphere of the brain the problem is illuminated – he is trying to objectively quantify something which has to be considered in the full context of the event. You cannot simply pull out whether the person who was assaulted knew their attacker – there are so many other variables, not least of which is the psychology of the person who was attacked.
Dawkins puts peoples incapacity to have a sensible, rational conversation about these things down to emotionalism. If we can just be sufficiently rational we would be able to have the conversation. To some extent he is correct, much of the backlash he has faced is emotional. But he does have a fails to take account of the ‘big’ picture.
At the end of the day I think we would do well to take McGilchrist’s critique seriously. The appeal to the utterly rational is an appeal to the mechanistic vision of the left brain. It is not a holistic approach. We need to hold the rational in context.
This is why the work of someone like Teilhard de Chardin is worth examining. In his own right he was also a well respected scientist, but his search was for the heartbeat of the Universe. He allowed himself to be moved by wonder and by awe. His starting point was perhaps something akin to that great Hopkins poem
THE WORLD is charged with the grandeur of God
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
Gerard Manley Hopkins
“Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for a second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.”
For him, God is to be found through the pursuit of science – not in spite of it. Werner Heisenberg of Uncertainty Principle fame is credited with saying ‘The first gulp from the glass of the natural sciences will turn you into an atheist, but at the bottom of the glass God is waiting for you’
Teilhard again writes:
“Matter is spirit moving slowly enough to be seen”
There is no scientific basis for these statements – although Teilhard de Chardin was a reputable paleontologist – nonetheless my heart leaps a little at these phrases. They are scientifically indefensible, but they feel as if they might hold truth.
If we allow ourselves to be moved by our science, if we allow our right brain to engage and entertain the idea of the possibility of a ‘big picture’ we may indeed find God at the bottom of the glass of science.
We need to begin to dare to hold them spirituality and science together, to take the information we get from spheres seriously, and to where the truth may lie.
Just to end off, I’d like to highlight just how we have to go. Questions which we need to begin to take seriously if we are to truly hold science and our Catholic faith together. I’m not sure that any of these questions have real answers yet, I’m not sure that they will ultimately get real answers, but they are not trivial. Let me be very clear, I am posing them precisely because I don’t have answers yet
The doctrine of original sin – The doctrine of original sin is based on the story of Adam and Eve – how do we conceive of the start of original sin in an evolutionary world?
Jesus’ DNA – where did Jesus’ Y chromosome come from?
In the end I have a few take home messages
You will never convince the likes of Richard Dawkins that God exists through rational argument. For someone like Dawkins there is nothing beyond rational argument. Agree to disagree – don’t try and prove anything.
For me science is tremendously useful, but it is limited. Don’t forget that.
I want to leave you tonight with another quote from Iain McGilchrist
‘Certainty is the greatest of all illusions: whatever kind of fundamentalism it may underwrite, that of religion or of science, it is what the ancients meant by hubris.’
The 2011 English Translation of the Roman Missal and the
Curbing of Liturgical Inculturation.
Thomas Plastow, S.J.
When South Africans discuss the 2011 English translation of the Roman Missal, liturgical
inculturation is seldom uppermost in their minds. Questions of grammar, fidelity, idiomatic
expression and ease of comprehension underpin both the praise and the anger that has greeted
the new English texts. Inculturation may seem an altogether different topic, yet translation is
a vital part of what liturgical inculturation is all about. Hearing and responding to the prayers
in our own languages has become inseparable from our ability to enter into and foster further
development of the sacred liturgy. It does not make any sense to speak of inculturating the
Gospel in any local context if the people of that place are not hearing the Word proclaimed
and the liturgy celebrated in a language they can readily understand.
Granted, the liturgical reforms of the 1960s did not begin with vernacular translations, for it
was the Latin books that were first revised. Since the Second Vatican Council, there have
been three editions of the Roman Missal in Latin: in 1969, 1975 and 2002. The second and
third of these do not change the most important prayer texts, but add in the newly canonised
saints and make changes to the rubrics, most especially those of the General Instruction. The
International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) has issued three different English
translations of the Latin original in 1973, 1998 and 2011. The first of these was used for
almost forty years, the second was never published, and the last is that we sit with today – a
slavishly direct translation.
Most of what has been written about the 2011 English translation of the Roman Missal uses
extracts from that work, showing either how much richer these are to their 1973 counterparts,
or how much more opaque they seem compared to those of 1973 or 1998. As we know from
scripture, it is possible to argue almost any point by citing texts. This paper will try to avoid
discussing the translated texts on their own merits or demerits, but will see them as products
of the Congregation for Divine Worship which had issued very different sets of rules for
It is my assertion in this paper that the current rules for translation, and the texts that apply
these rules, do not assist in the inculturation of the Roman liturgy, but actually prevent people
from understanding and participating in the liturgy as fully and as meaningfully as the
process of inculturation might otherwise have allowed them.
1969-2001: a sea change in official outlook
The Second Vatican Council passed the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy in December
1963. In January 1969 those revising the liturgy in the light of this constitution published
their first instruction on the translation of texts. The English-speaking world began using the
first authorised English translation of the revised missal in 1973, but work began on a second
edition which aimed to improve on the first and provide more alternate texts, as the rules then
allowed, that would fit with the readings of the three-year Sunday cycle. This second edition
was ready in 1998 and was approved by every English-speaking conference of bishops the
world over. It was never to be published, however, for the Congregation for Divine Worship
in Rome was then at odds with the International Commission for English in the Liturgy
(ICEL) in Washington D.C. ICEL would be punished for its innovation and creativity.
The well-used translation published in 1973, and that of 1998 which was shelved after it was
refused a Roman recognitio, were in keeping with the rules set out in the 1969 instruction
Comme le prévoit. Once this instruction was superseded by Liturgiam authenticam in 2001,
translation became a whole new ball game. Given Rome’s about-turn on many of the earlier
priorities in the process of translating texts, the English language Missal in use since 2011 is
the inevitable result.
It may be helpful to illustrate this point by comparing and contrasting some aspects of these
two instructions. Comme le prévoit (ClP) is a document of 43 paragraphs, or about seven
pages. It was written in French, but issued in six major languages. It came from the
Consilium, the commission set up between 1964 and 1969 to oversee the implementation of
the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of Vatican II. Liturgiam authenticam (LA) runs to 133
paragraphs which, together with their footnotes, covers about 44 pages. It was published in
Latin and subsequently translated into modern languages. It was issued by the Congregation
for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, the Roman dicastery responsible
for worship, which had absorbed the Consilium during the 1969 restructuring of the Roman
The two documents differ markedly in style. While ClP was said to recommend, LA
commands, insisting that all vernacular translations follow the Latin literally. The
punctuation, capital letters, syntax and rhythm of the original are to be carried over into the
vernacular texts (LA#20). Original prayer formulas are tightly controlled and even local
hymn books to be used at Mass must be sent to Rome for approval. In short, LA overturned
the work of a generation and gave the Roman Curia ample authority to reform the liturgical
reforms of the previous thirty-five years. (Wilkins, 2005:19)
Some comparisons reveal the conservative agenda of elements within the Roman Curia at the
turn of the century.
 ClP had stated that the liturgical text is to be a medium of social communication (ClP#5).
Its purpose is to proclaim the message of salvation to believers and express the prayer of
the Church to God (ClP#6). In contrast, LA has as its first concern “the safeguarding and
the authentic development of the liturgical rites, the ecclesiastical traditions, and the
discipline of the Latin Church, and in particular, of the Roman Rite.” (LA#4)
 ClP encouraged freer translations, saying that it was not enough for the vernacular text to
merely reproduce the expressions and ideas of the Latin, but it must express to a given
people, in their own language, that which the Church originally intended to communicate
to another people in another time and context (ClP#6-8). In marked contrast, LA states
that “a literal translation of terms which may initially sound odd in a vernacular language
may for this very reason provoke inquisitiveness in the hearer and provide an occasion
for catechesis”. (LA#43)
 ClP told us that the prayer of the Church is always the prayer of some actual community,
here and now. It is not sufficient that a formula handed down from some other time or
region be translated verbatim (ClP#20). LA says, in rebuttal, that the words are not
intended to be a sort of mirror of the interior dispositions of the faithful, rather they
express truths that transcend the limits of time and space. (LA #19) The Roman Rite
assimilates into itself spoken and sung texts… into a unity that transcends the boundaries
of any single region. (LA #5)
 ClP recognised that some languages and cultures work differently to others. Latin stacks
adjectives together to show emphasis while, in English, understatement is sometimes a
more effective means of emphasis. (ClP #12) This is lost in LA resulting in overstated
and even comical English transliterations such as “he took this precious chalice in his
holy and venerable hands”, “look upon these offerings with a serene and kindly
countenance” and “with the most blessed Virgin Mary…with your blessed Apostles and
Translation is always awkward. Sacrifices must be made
There is no such thing as an exact translation. Languages emerge from different cultures and
histories and are structured differently. Idiom plays a vital role in expression, and idiom
changes over time within each living language. Every translator must make difficult
decisions, and something is always sacrificed as the message is conveyed anew in another
tongue. Nowhere have I found this better expressed than in Anne Michael’s novel Fugitive
Pieces in which the narrator Jakob wrestles with the problem of translating Greek poetry into
“Reading a poem in translation,” wrote Bialek, “is like kissing a woman through a
veil”… Translation is a kind of transubstantiation; one poem becomes another. You
can choose your philosophy of translation just as you choose how to live: the free
adaptation that sacrifices detail to meaning, the strict crib that sacrifices meaning to
exactitude. The poet moves from life to language, the translator moves from language
to life; both, like the immigrant, try to identify the invisible, what’s between the lines,
the mysterious implications.
The 1973 English translation of the Roman Missal was much criticised for sacrificing the
exact details of the Latin original. It is also fashionable today to say that the 1973 translation
was “a rushed job” and that that of 2011 is more “accurate”. Richard Helmick, who assisted
in drafting the original version, admits that it was not perfect, but that it was guided by
important principles which have now been disregarded. (Helmick, 2010:10) The most
important of these was that the English used in the translated texts should be the English
people actually speak, for to address God in archaic or artificial language “was to assert that
the one being addressed was not real”.
Let us then move on to some of the usual difficulties in translating texts, noting how the rules
of Liturgiam authenticam compare to other approaches.
Translation is never easy, but when the two languages in play are from different groups, it
becomes almost impossible. The author and erstwhile translator Jennie Erdal uses Japanese
onomatopoeic expressions to illustrate this point. Seasonal changes and different kinds of
wind and rain are expressed using evocative sounds that cannot be expressed in English. As
an inflected language, Russian can use a single verb “to tell you who is doing what, how
many are doing it, whether they are male, female or neuter, when it was done, and even
whether the activity was completed or whether it is still going on.” One suspects that our
Nguni and Sotho language families are better able to do this than English ever was.
English may not be as far from Latin as it is from Japanese or Russian, but English is not a
Romance language as are Italian, Spanish and French. English is a Germanic language
overlaid with a medieval French veneer and bolstered with subsequent borrowings from
Britain’s imperial conquests. While many words came into English from Latin via Norman
French, and while these were often words expressing courtly love, philosophy and
sophisticated thought, we cannot communicate effectively without our Anglo-Saxon
undergirding which give us our yes and no, our bread and milk, and our song to Almighty
God. One of the difficulties with the new rules for translation is that they insist when a
vernacular language has alternative words from which to choose, the one with the more
“sacral character” is to be preferred. (LA #50c) The more religious sounding English words
are often recent borrowings from church Latin, or those which have come into English from
Norman French. Ignoring or even proscribing deeply rooted Anglo-Saxon words can only
result in an imbalance that prevents the English speaker from engaging effectively with the
Helmick remembers that, when preparing the 1973 translation, some of the fourth-century
Latin vocabulary was regarded as unsustainable in modern English, especially the many nonlimiting
adjectives which often come in pairs as in sanctas ac venerabiles manus suas (his
holy and venerable hands), the example already given in the last section. Helmick states that
to translate the prayers faithfully must mean eliminating “distorting foreign and archaic
usage” which simply does not elevate the English text or render it more understandable.
Syntax and prosaic rhythm
Word order is vitally important is both English and Afrikaans for both languages have lost
most of the inflections, or word endings, that Latin, French and German use to show how the
words in a sentence relate to one another. Professor David Crystal makes this point using the
sentence “The man loves the girl”. We know that the man is the subject of the verb (that he
is the lover) because he is mentioned first. In Latin the sentence would read: homo amat
puellam. Since the word for girl is puella, it is the inflection -m that shows she is the object
of the sentence. Once this is established, it does not matter whether we write puellam amat
homo, amat puellam homo or puellam homo amat for all these phrases mean the same thing.
This would not be true of “the girl loves the man”, “the man the girl loves”, or “loves the girl
We have seen that Liturgiam authenticam insists that vernacular translations of the Roman
Missal keep the Latin word order as carefully as possible. Obviously the new English
translation of the Missal has, in most cases, avoided grammatical mistakes, but a simpler
word order would have made the texts easier to proclaim and to comprehend. As an example,
let us take the Prayer After Communion for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time. The new
translation reads as follows:
Grant, we pray, almighty God,
that, receiving the grace by which you bring us to new life,
we may always glory in your gift.
Through Christ our Lord.
There is no doubt that this is closer to the Latin than the 1973 version which adapted things in
order to get the prayer into simple English:
God, all-powerful Father,
may the new life you give us increase our love
and keep us in the joy of your kingdom.
We make this prayer through Christ our Lord.
The rejected 1998 translation, however, both captured the intention of the Latin and made it
understandable when said aloud:
Grant, all-powerful God,
that we who receive in this eucharist
your life-giving grace
may always delight in your blessings.
We make our prayer in the name of Jesus, the Lord.
Two years ago, a Spanish priest working in South Africa began speaking about his
disappointment with the 2011 translation. He did not pretend to be an expert in English, but
he did say how much he valued the English instinct to limit the number of subordinate
clauses: “English is a very neat language. Another idea means another sentence!” Of course
this is not always true in prose and poetry, and we would do well to avoid the tendency of
modern advertisers who put full-stops after almost every word. For emphasis. Obviously!
But my Spanish friend senses that English does have a rhythm of its own which the 2011
translation has ignored. He also knows that long sentences do not make for easy listening.
When President Thabo Mbeki was removed from office in 2008, one reason for his
unpopularity was mooted to be that he used long, complicated sentences of up to 42 words at
a time. In mimicking the flow of the Latin original, the First Preface of Advent now contains
64 words in a single sentence, and begins the next sentence of 32 words with “and”, thus
giving the hearer an uninterrupted flow of 97 words!
Who owns the language?
The books we began using in 2011were made to follow the Latin closely, even slavishly, but
now many people complain that they cannot understand what is being read. The use of
idiomatic English has been rejected in an attempt to find an English that will rise above local
variation and endure. The danger in this is no living language can be prised apart from the
cultures in which it is spoken without losing its life-source. This is noted by Erdal in her
autobiographical work Ghosting as she looks back on her Scottish childhood. When her
parents’ best friend comes to visit, the whole family lapses into the local dialect:
It is difficult to describe exactly what it was that happened, but it had to do with the
shape of the sentences and the words that were in them – they seemed to be just the
right words in the right place. The sound of my parents chatting with Uncle Bill was a
joy – they used words like scunner and glaekit and puggled and wabbit linked together
by lots of dinnaes and winnaes and cannaes… In my recollection [my parents] seemed
happier at these times than at any other… And even when they disagreed, there was
still a warm feeling, as if something had loosened. They were relaxed in their
rhythms, at ease with the words – as if they were real owners of this language, not just
borrowers. And not pretenders either, for their conversation was real and full of rich
meaning. (Erdal, 2004:50-51, her emphasis)
As I type this passage, the computer underscores most of these Scottish ways of speaking
English. These words are not recognised as part of the common lexicon. But my point here
is not to argue for the wider use of glaekit or cannae, but to ask the reader when last he or she
experienced this happy ownership of language. South Africans cannot but know what Erdal
means. Think how differently we use English when we are with others of our own
background, whether we are Coloured or Indian, northern or southern suburbs, teenagers or
pensioners. Witness how people relax into a different idiom when they are released from
their usual, multi-cultural workplace. There is sadness here too. Apartheid education
promoted the idea that English was a foreign language. While ordinary people borrowed
words wholesale, especially from Afrikaans, Zulu and American English, there was always a
notion that the local idiom was a poor substitute for “the Queen’s English” or “Oxford
English”. Jennie Erdal was also raised that way:
When [Uncle Bill] went away, however, the mood would suddenly shift back to
something less certain, less safe… I would repeat some of the words Uncle Bill had
said, using his words and expressions, following his rhythms… “Don’t talk like that!”
my mother would say, “You know that’s no way to speak!”
The assumption here is that to be somebody, to be taken seriously and get on in the world, we
have to let go of part of ourselves. We have to sacrifice the local and the familiar in order to
become global players. But should this be our attitude to prayer? When we pray, should we
not be speaking to God with honesty and integrity, speaking in our own words and not trying
to sound like someone else? I am constantly frustrated by many of my Sotho, Tswana and
Zulu-speaking colleagues who don’t understand this point, but who accepted the 2011
English translation as being “just like the Sotho”. Yes, the Sotho translation did follow the
Latin more exactly, but why did things have to end there? Nobody really speaks the language
of the Sotho missal – not even in rural Lesotho – so why could the next edition of all our
vernacular liturgies not have been much more faithful to the languages people speak?
The International Commission for English in the Liturgy (ICEL) is tasked with issuing a
single set of texts that will be equally applicable in Texas, Ireland and Papua New Guinea. I
have often wondered at this, given how different our cultures can be. Of course were we to
ask for three or four different English missals to cater for various groups within South Africa,
we might be reintroducing apartheid-style segregation, but there must be an alternative
solution to the Latinised English of the new translation which is equally foreign to all. This
rather strange, florid English, is supposedly a new “sacral vernacular”, a version of English
that is supposedly more sacred than any other. It does not claim to be the language of
Shakespeare, Jane Austin or T.S. Eliot, but something above the culture and register of any
single place or time. But can a living language be shoehorned into such a static function?
Two definitions of culture
In the multi-cultural cities of twenty-first century South Africa we rub shoulders with all
manner of people. There is a real sense that one’s culture is but one of many, even when
people do not have a high regard for cultures of others. Culture is generally understood as a
system of traditions we have inherited from our forebears which contain customs, behaviour
and values that guide, group and define a people. The word culture is now also being used
more loosely to describe entrenched habits, both good and bad. We are told that some South
Africans have a “culture of non-payment” when electricity or water accounts are pending, or
that we need to foster a “culture of learning” in our youth.
In some quarters, however, culture is still used to refer to those aspects of the arts that were
once considered more refined or sophisticated. The visual arts, architecture, literature, ballet
and opera are still considered by many to be “high culture”. Great names like Shakespeare,
Mozart and Picasso were often considered integral to a well-rounded cultural appreciation,
and throughout the twentieth century many local educators resisted attempts to broaden
syllabi (here I am not speaking of the evil Bantu education) lest African pupils missed out on
the “great tradition” of English literature or classical music.
Whenever “high culture” is defined as something rather sophisticated and beyond the reach
of most people, it allows a society to define who is in and who must remain on the outside.
The philosopher Bernard Lonergan defines this as the “classical model” or culture, separating
the cultured from the barbaric elements in society. (Pecklers, 2003:118)
Keith Pecklers, the liturgy professor at the Gregorian University, uses Lonergan’s approach
as a tool to explain why the Roman liturgy was not inculturated in Asia and Africa from the
time of the first renaissance missionaries. Up until the middle of the last century, most
churchmen thought of culture using the “classical model”, and saw the liturgies of the Roman
Rite to be part of that. To be Roman Catholic meant to celebrate the Mass in one particular
way, using specific vestments, and saying pre-determined, Latin prayers. One exceptional
departure from this policy was the seventeenth and eighteen century Jesuit effort to
evangelize China by tapping into Chinese philosophies, languages and cultural practices.
This caused plenty of controversy and was finally forbidden by Rome.
It is my fear that the “Fourth and Fifth Instructions for the Right Implementation of the
Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy”, namely Inculturation and the Roman Rite of 1994 and
Liturgiam authenicam of 2001, are taking us back to what Lonergan calls the classical model.
The firm intention behind these two documents is to preserve the Roman Missal and other
liturgical rites at all costs and keep them as signs of unity. Though we no longer have the
absolute uniformity of the post-Tridentine period, there will be no new families of Rites
outside Europe, and even the use of European languages in translated texts is to be managed
so as to ensure no innovation or fresh composition enters into use. The Roman Rite may be
adapted, especially in some far flung indigenous cultures (which the “classical model” might
consider less sophisticated, or even barbaric), but all these newly evangelized countries are to
continue using the Roman liturgy.
Liturgical inculturation means going beyond adaptation.
Inculturation, referring especially to liturgical inculturation, was the watchword of the local
Church in the 1990s. It was spoken about all the time by seminarians, young indigenous
clergy, and missionaries returning to South Africa from sabbatical studies. Sensing this to be
a popular trend, and being encouraged by the speeches and writings of the then pope, John
Paul II, local bishops held large gatherings in stadia to celebrate cultural diversity and even
“launch” liturgical enculturation in a particular province or diocese. Listening to people, and
surveying the literature at the time, it became clear to me that while inculturation was the
term most commonly heard, it was often substituted by other terms such as revision,
accommodation, incarnation, adaptation, Africanization, or indigenization.
Steps forward in evangelization
Such a fluid use of terminology meant that different writers often intended rather different
things. With time, however, some of these terms began to be linked to different methods of
evangelization and liturgical renewal. Enthusiasts then appraised these methods as more or
less progressive. This looked-for progression may be conveniently stated as being one that
starts with translation, moves through adaptation, and finally results in a proper and
meaningful inculturation of the liturgy.
It is vitally important to state that here “translation” means more than transposing written
work from one language to another. Just as the scriptures and the liturgical texts get
translated from Latin to the vernacular, so can symbols, gestures and other ritual forms be
turned into authentic local expressions by replacing a Roman item with an indigenous one.
An African example would be that in Zimbabwe people remain seated during the
proclamation of the Gospel since an organised group of people rising to their feet en masse
denotes not respect but mobilisation in the face of an enemy, whereas disciples sit at the feet
of their teacher to show respectful listening.
It is also important to note that translation, whether of words or of gestures, is seen as being
merely the first step towards the incorporation of the Roman liturgy into very different
cultural contexts. Indeed, some authors looked back on the translation and adaptation stages
in frustration and annoyance, reviewing the methods employed through much of the 1970s
and 1980s as the paternalistic and inaccurate tinkering of local cultures by missionaries.
Real inculturation, on the other hand, is seen as an exchange, “an ongoing process of
reciprocal and critical interaction and assimilation between [Christianity and a culture]”.
(Arbuckle, 1986:517, his emphasis.) This distinction was used at the 1985 Extraordinary
Synod of Bishops, and was taken up in Pope John Paul II’s 1990 encyclical Redemptoris
missio which admits that inculturation is a two way process: Christianity is to become more
readily understood by a culture, and the culture is to be illuminated from within by the
The late Filipino scholar Anscar Chupungco, onetime professor of liturgical inculturation at
the Pontifical Liturgical Institute in Rome, sets out the process of inculturation with the
algebraic formula A + B = C, where A is the Gospel message, B the culture and C the
resulting incarnation of Christianity. (Chupungco, 1992: 29-30)
The former Jesuit superior in Nigeria-Ghana, Peter Schineller sees the incarnation of Christ
as the theological underpinning for inculturation, but he bases his definition of inculturation
on its anthropological antecedents. He says the word combines the theological significance
of the incarnation with the sociological concepts of enculturation and of acculturation, the
process whereby practices or customs of two different cultures meet and exist side by side
without mingling. Inculturation goes one step further however, for it assumes the insertion of
the Christian message into another culture, so cultural contact becomes cultural mixing or
interaction. It means going beyond adaptation to the renewal and transformation of cultures,
by the Gospel, from within. (Schineller, 1990:23)
The late South African scholar David Bosch would be in agreement with these assertions.
Among the differences he notes between translation and adaptation on the one hand, and
inculturation on the other, is that with inculturation the agents are the Holy Spirit and the
local community. Neither missionaries, hierarchies nor the magisterium is in full control of
the process. Likewise, the whole culture has to be embraced and there is no longer the option
of attempting to Christianise certain elements from the original culture. (Bosch, 1991:453)
The crux of the liturgical inculturation debate is the relative positions of the indigenous
culture and the sacred liturgy. Over and over again we have to pose the question: are we
inserting Christianity into Africa or Africanising Christianity? If an objective of Catholic
evangelization is that people come to accept the Roman Rite, must this render culture a
passive recipient? If we are Africanizing the liturgy, what value (if any) should we place on
the age-old traditions that have come down to us from Semitic, Greek, Roman, Frankish and
How liturgical inculturation works
In a masterful piece of writing, Chupungco(1992:37-51) identified and categorised three
methods of liturgical inculturation which have proven an excellent means of understanding
most of what has been happening in the dioceses of the developing world over the past thirty
or forty years. I have used Chupungco’s categories as the basis for many presentations,
including one to the plenary session of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference
back in January 2004. Chupungco calls the three methods dynamic equivalence, creative
assimilation, and organic progression. These terms describe actual ways in which the liturgy
has been and continues to be inculturated. Here I shall examine them in reverse order,
showing whether or not they fit with Liturgiam authenticam and the vernacular translations
that have come in its wake.
Each of the liturgies of the Roman Rite is published in a liturgical book, or ritual. The
original version of each, whether it be the Missal or the rite of a specific sacrament, is in
Latin and is called the editio typica or official edition. Each of these is translated into
numerous vernacular languages. Each conference of bishops may publish its own edition of
the newly translated rites, and may supplement the directives, prayers and other elements
therein so as to adapt it to specific local circumstances. In effect, the local churches read an
editio typica and fill out what is considered lacking in its Roman sobriety. (Chupungco,
1992:22) These official local adaptations are seen as growing out of the editio typica and so
this method of liturgical inculturation is termed organic progression.
Another, less formal example of organic progression might be when the local priest makes
use of the legitimate options given in the books so that the liturgy may fit better with local
customs. In the directives within the liturgical books, and in the General Instruction on the
Roman Missal, there are many suggested places for adaptation.
This second method is perhaps the most “gung ho” of the three and is often the one presumed
by African enthusiasts determined to bring elements of their cultural practices into church.
This model is the closest to contextual theology, for it starts with the observation of a practice
regarded as important to a cultural identity and then attempts to accommodate it within
Christian liturgy. This implies a departure from the Roman rituals, for creative assimilation
means the absorption into the Christian liturgy of the rites and practices of contemporary
One of the hallmarks of African cultures is their respect for the ancestors and their
understanding that those people of goodwill who have gone before remain involved in the
lives of their descendants. These aspects of local cultures remain controversial in Christian
circles, yet there is a growing sense that unless Christianity can accommodate aspects of
ancestral veneration, African Christians will continue living a dual spirituality. In this
context, creative assimilation would mean the christening of a cultural practice such as
animal slaying, or the pouring of libations, publishing Christian prayers and catechesis that
situate these cultural practices within a Christian understanding that maintains the central role
of Jesus Christ and shows all spirits and souls as being subject to him.
Liturgiam authenticam, the fifth instruction on how to implement the Constitution on the
Sacred Liturgy, has translation as its focus and so does not mention examples of current
creative assimilation. It does speak of inculturation however, affirming the Roman Missal as
a “precious example and instrument” of inculturation. (LA #5) The reasoning behind this
assertion is that the Roman Missal contains texts and chants that originated at different times
and in several places, absorbing all these in harmonious union.
While it would perhaps be more accurate to say that the Roma Missal is a product of
inculturation rather than an instrument thereof, this part of LA would appear to recognise that
both organic progression and creative assimilation have taken place over the centuries. In the
Patristic period and in the Frankish church of the early Middle Ages, Christian meanings
were given to non-Christian traditions through the use of biblical typology and so were
absorbed into Christian practice. A good example is the vesting, anointing of hands, and
presentation of the chalice and paten that takes place during a presbyteral ordination. These
aspects of the rite stem from the Kingdom of the Franks in the eighth century. They are
cultural practices, based on early northern European understandings of bearing office which
were later introduced to the Holy See in the books imported from the Holy Roman Empire.
This historical lesson is such a bitter pill for the Roman Curia that it is ignored in the 1994
“fourth instruction” Inculturation and the Roman Rite, and scarcely mentioned in LA, the
“fifth instruction”. One would have thought this historical precedent would assist in the
incorporation of many rich cultural practices from across the globe. Instead the Congregation
for Divine Worship (CDW) insists that it will control all future inculturation through a strict
process. In fact Inculturation and the Roman Rite, separates European and other “first world”
cultures from those more recently evangelized, restricting liturgical inculturation to the latter.
In all this, instead of embracing diversity and rejoicing in the variety of ways God has been
made known through local cultures, the CDW insists that the Roman Missal is to remain a
sign of unity, to the extent of keeping the syntax and punctuation of the current Latin edition.
This ignores the huge variety of local liturgical practice across Europe before the imposition
of the one Roman Missal by Pius V in 1570. For a church that values historical continuity,
we can be remarkably forgetful of our past.
The third of Chupungco’s methods I am treating separately since it is more closely linked to
the subject of translation. We have already seen that “translation” can include texts, gestures
and symbols. Just as a priest in London or Paris kisses the altar to show veneration, so a
priest in Kinshasa might make a profound bow at each corner, touching his forehead to the
altar each time.
Although translation methods foster the least controversial kinds of liturgical inculturation,
we have seen how some theologians rejected them as “tinkering”. The weakness of the
translation model lies in its positivist or mechanical understanding of cultures which
originated in the eighteenth century Enlightenment. Such an understanding would assume
every culture to have an equitable means of expressing the same concerns, an idea now
challenged by cultural anthropology as being too simplistic. Cultures are not all the same,
and neither are the languages that develop within them. While academics may argue over the
number of words for snow or reindeer used in any single Eskimo-Aleut language, common
sense tells us these people will have a greater variety in this area than, for example, the Igbo
or Ewe speakers of West Africa.
Article 63 of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical, Evangelii nuntiandi, charges the local churches to
assimilate and transpose the essence of the Christian message “without the slightest betrayal
of its essential truth…” This is no easy task, especially when many “essential truths” have
been defined in the languages and philosophies of cultures long since disappeared! Then
again, how are we to decide what is essential and what is not? This dilemma has plagued the
Church ever since the “Council of Jerusalem” described in chapter fifteen of the Acts of the
Organic progression can be monitored, and creative assimilation discouraged, but translation
is something much more difficult to administer. Translation is “entry level” inculturation, but
to be regarded as inculturation at all, Chupungco insists that the translated text or gesture
must engage people profoundly. “Dynamic equivalence” obviously goes beyond “static
equivalence”: the borrowing of a foreign word into the local language. Examples of static
equivalence would be the English “mystery” for the Greek “mysterion”, or the Zulu
“isakramente” for the Latin “sacramentum”. Neither of these static translations is wholly
A well-known example of “dynamic equivalence” translation is the Good News Bible.
Unlike the New Jerusalem Bible or the Revised Standard Version which set out to capture the
nuances and ambiguities of the original Hebrew and Greek texts, the Good News Bible set
things down in a late twentieth century English idiom that chose to be both simple and
accessible. (Bevans, p.190) It is not a text that would be recommended for scripture
scholars, but it has been the vehicle whereby hundreds of thousands of people have
encountered God since they have found it readable and easy to understand.
Much of what has been written since the introduction of the new English translation of the
Roman Missal in South Africa has considered the shift from a “dynamic” translation to a
“formal” one. Some have gone so far as to describe this as a “change in philosophy”. In
juxtaposing “dynamic” and “formal”, those in favour of the new translation have found a
label more acceptable than “static” and have tried to liken dynamic to informal, casual or
inaccurate. Dynamic is now a suspect word. It can even sound disloyal in some quarters.
In its rejection of dynamic translation, and the use of all idiom, prose and syntax particular to
the English language, Liturgiam authenticam can be regarded as “exculturation” the very
opposite of the liturgical inculturation we looked for so optimistically just fifteen years ago.
Can Christianity can be separated from western cultural tradition and then be recast in an
African or Asian context by finding cultural patterns and practices which parallel those of the
West? To assume that Christianity can be extracted from one culture and inserted into another
may be to assume that Christianity stands above all cultures – a highly debatable topic!
Before being elected pope, Benedict XVI doubted this. He saw Christianity as being a
culture in its own right, with its own language (Latin), cultures and traditions. (Pecklers,
2003:126-7) He doubted that inculturation was possible or desirable, preferring to speak of
“inter-culturation” is which Christian culture and indigenous culture meet and dialogue. This
different approach puts a greater emphasis on preserving the artistic, literary and musical
heritage of the Roman Rite, but may hamper effective evangelization .When Saints Cyril and
Methodius evangelized the Slavs in the ninth century they jettisoned Greek and Latin in
favour of Old Slavonic and were accused by some German churchmen of tampering with the
Catholic faith. (Pecklers, 2003:129) How slow we are to learn from history!
How then shall we pray?
The 2011 translation, based upon the instruction Liturgiam authenticam of a decade earlier, is
a victory for those whose primary interests are the preservation of Roman tradition and the
centralization and uniformity of Catholic worship. Short of making an act of disobedience,
individual priests and bishops can do little to reverse what has been done.
The inability of people to pray in a language truly their own while in church is bound to mean
that the gap between the official liturgy and popular devotion will grow wider once again, as
will the distinction between the relative roles of the clergy and the laity.
Our image of God is also bound to change. While Jesus taught us to call God our Abba, or
Daddy, the new translation entreats God as one might a fourth century Caesar. While some
now say that English speakers can once again appreciate the richness and the doctrinal purity
of the Latin texts, one might rather state that two new generations of English speakers now
look aghast on how centuries of Catholics grovelled before a God seemingly in need of
propitiation, rather than entered his presence as his sons and daughters in Christ.
Of course some consider that contemporary people have become too boastful, too selfassured,
and that we need to humble ourselves before the Almighty. Detractors of the
liturgical reform often scorn that more liberal congregations do not gather to worship God so
much as celebrate themselves as the People of God. How strange and inconsistent these
critics can be. If I choose to worship in my own language, in a register which helps me feel
at home, addressing one who is close to me, am I celebrating myself? I think we are in
greater danger of celebrating our own identity when define ourselves not as co-heirs with
Christ, but as inheritors of the Roman Missal? Putting conservation and continuity above all
else is to risk turning liturgy into a “high culture” performance which reminds us who belong
inside and who are outcasts. A type of Catholic fundamentalism then asserts itself which
may foster certitude and belonging in a few, but which will certainly alienate many others,
giving them little alternative but to come to church less often.
Liturgiam authenticam and the 2011 English translation of the Roman Missal do not help the
process of inculturation. We may even say that they work against it. If the Congregation of
Divine Worship were at the point of realising that English has now displaced Latin as the
most universal language, and if this 2011 English missal were being held up as an interlinear
text from which new translations would be made (including a modern English version!) then
inculturation could be fostered. As we have seen, however, this is far from what is intended.
I give the last word to Jennie Erdal:
Does any of this matter? To some extent it does, if only to make us aware that the
architecture of any language goes much deeper than its inflections or other distinctive
features. In some profound sense a grammar expresses the culture of a people, their
way of thinking, their soul – whatever we mean by that. All of this is at stake in the
translation process. (2004:85, her emphasis)
Could, or should, the Church redefine the family at the upcoming Synod of Bishops?
Russell Pollitt, S.J.
I would like to begin by sharing my thoughts with you about what I consider to be a very important discussion in the Church today; The Family. The upcoming Synod of Bishops in Rome (Oct, 4-25) will be, I think, important for many Catholics, other Christians and humanity because the state of traditional family life the world over is in flux. It will also be an important moment for the Church and this papacy.
I would like to make a few opening observations.
First, most of my priestly formation and life has been in a pastoral setting. I am not an academic theologian – sorry to disappoint – so much of what I think and say will be rooted in my pastoral experience/observations.
Second, I believe that Pope Francis called the Synod because of his concern for family life, which arose, out of his own pastoral experience in Argentina. I am convinced, and I quote auxiliary bishop of San Francisco , Robert McElroy, that “Mercy is the fulcrum of Francis’ theology.”
The Pope is asking the church to look through a pastoral lens that replaces harsh judgment about rule keeping with a compassion that recognises the failures of all of us. We are all wounded people. God comes to us most powerfully in that woundedness. One of the most abiding images I have of the many things the Pope has said in the last two years is his image of the church as a “field hospital”. The church’s mission is to bring love, mercy, and healing. Too often the church has focused first on people living rightly instead of being the place where people encounter forgiveness and support as they struggle to live virtuous lives. This has been, it seems to me, the constant message of Francis. Again, I quote from Bishop McElroy: “To be judgmental is a cardinal sin for religion. It is easy for the church to get lost in the rules, but pastoral theology trumps rules.” I believe we have a Pope, for the first time in a while, that is a pastoral theologian. The Holy Father says: “The Church must be a place of mercy freely given, where everyone can feel welcomed, loved, forgiven and encouraged to live the good life of the Gospel.”
Third, I believe that there is a battle going on in the heart of the Church. I think that the battle is much more complex than just so-called conservatives vs so-called liberals – epitomised perhaps by the so-called “culture wars” between the US Bishops and the Obama administration. It’s an ecclesiological one – how we understand what the Church primarily is and how that defines our mission – our praxis. It’s more than just two clashing ideologies.
Added to this cocktail is the all too human desire for power and control of one group over another. Pope Francis is clear on what he wants – a Church that is engaged. He says “I prefer a Church that is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.” The bruised, hurting, and dirty places often find their locale in family life – do those battling it out for power and their ideologies understand this?
Fourth, I believe that the Synod is a chance for the Church to renew and review itself. It is an opportunity for us to admit that we do not have all the answers, that there are areas of our human lives that do not fit into the categories that have been created. Life is, if we admit it, fragile and ambiguous – seen no more clearly perhaps than in relationships/family. This is an opportunity for real listening, real dialogue, real prayer, and real trust in God’s Spirit. If we approach this Synod by “digging in our heels” rather than a willingness to listen courageously then we will lose yet another opportunity for renewal and review. We again will shut the door on God’s Spirit.
Fifth, I believe that what happens at this Synod and what the Pope writes in his final Apostolic Exhortation can and will define his Papacy. Maybe it is too strong to say but “make or break.” There are many people, around the world, who have renewed vigour and great hope that they will “re-find” their home in the church and once again take their righful place – the place of all the baptised – in the midst of God’s people. Francis has indicated that he wants the Church to be inclusive – a home for all: “The Church is called to be the house of the Father, with doors always wide open.” And, “The Church is not a tollhouse; it is the house of the Father, where there is place for everyone, with all their problems.” Will he really be able to make the “home” he speaks of and the one many people desire?
In order to answer the question as to whether or not the church could or should redefine the “family” at the Synod I think we need to contextualise ourselves.
Social scientists now suggest that we can no longer define the family as we did in the 19th century. Whether we could ever have defined the “nuclear” family in Africa is a topic on its own. This is a very Western model of family and yet the model that we, the Christian Church, have adopted. It has failed to take into account the views and experiences of Africa, Asia and Middle Eastern cultures.
Democracy and Capitalism
Democracy and capitalism have changed family life. Democracy has, for the most part, undermined the idea of patriarchal families and promoted the equality of men and women. A culture of human rights, which is very much part of the democratic ideology, has challenged the idea that women and children are property. All are citizens and subjects and, supposedly, equal under the law. The Roman worldview of the man as head of the family and having rights over the rest of the people in his family has ended or is ending. In much theology this worldview still lingers in under the surface – look at the language in the Rite of Marriage.
Capitalism has change the way families operate. In most families both parents work – because they have to. The idea of the man as the sole “breadwinner” is no longer the case. The feminist movement, from the late 18th century, has challenged male domination in society and the economy. Although in many countries women still struggle for equal rights and access to the economy we cannot deny that things are changing – albeit slowly. Women are now working in a number of professional areas – in corporate life, in politics etc. They are no longer at home nursing children. In fact, many women work and still have to do the housework.
Footnote: there are also many places where patriarchy is still the order of the day – in societies where democracy and human rights have not gained a foothold and fundamentalist religion continues to uphold the status quo – places in Africa for example. However, these societies will surely have to change as the global village becomes smaller, economics more integrated and democratic rule becomes the desired norm – sometime simply because of external pressure e.g. development funding.
In our Southern African context the economic system has caused an immeasurable movement of people who pursue a better life for them and their loved ones. Economic migration has undeniably changed the essence of life in South Africa. Father working in the mines in the North West province, the mother as a domestic in Johannesburg and the children living with grandparents (normally grandmothers) in the Eastern Cape province. This has had a huge effect on the “family life”.
Footnote: this angle of things was almost absent from any of the rhetoric around the Extra-Ordinary Synod last year which, from an African and increasingly global perspective, was sad to see. It is interesting to note that much of the Holy Father’s Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium was devoted to an unjust economy and its effects on people. The Synod didn’t pick this up in the context of the family.
Further to economics: family size is linked to the ability to afford children and provide for them in all the dimensions. Education, has, for example, become a “for profit” enterprise and this constrains people even if they wanted to have 10 children. Do we in the church recognise these hard economic facts that are not going to change?
We cannot talk about influences on family without mentioning global politics. The situation on this continent, the Middle East etc. – the forced movements of people because of political conditions that have led to inhospitable environments for families (including the death of member/s of families or them going missing as they flee) needs consideration. This has been much of Africa’s story, for example, in the last 50 years because of liberation wars, dictators, and despots.
Science and Technology
Developments in science and technology have impacted on family life. Medical advances have improved health and given people longer to live, reduced the risk of natal death and given us the ability to control birth. We have also witnessed, in the last 30 years, an incredible amount of research on gender and sexual orientation that has changed trajectories. If, for example, some scientists claim that there are bio-physical/chemical differences between homosexuals and heterosexuals we have to take cognisance of this . Too many people still think that homosexuality is simply a matter of choice – and what is chosen is given moral quality. We must engage, listen, and interrogate the findings and hypotheses of modern science. Science is not foe, it informs theological content as does theology science. Bad theology does not give science serious consideration.
Western European culture is not the dominant culture of the Church anymore. The Church in Africa, Asia and Latin America is where the church is growing. Local traditions, customs and beliefs – like polygamy – introduce a dynamic the Church has not had to face in a monolithic culture. For the most part cultural paradigms outside of the West are not being engaged.
The combined effects of political, economic, scientific, economic and culture factors have, and will continue to, change the contemporary family.
This is the backdrop – crudely and broadly sketched – in which the family operates today.
The family, as we have defined it, is not as clearly defined in our tradition as we might think. There has, I contend, been an evolving understanding of the family. In the OT we hear accounts of polygamy, extended families, arranged marriages and what sometimes looks like nuclear family.
In the NT we read things like Paul’s “household codes.” These are not clear either. Sometimes they seem to advocate mutual love and respect, other times they are a little less loving and respectful in their instruction.
Paul thinks that the Parousia is imminent – he advises people not to marry, as this would simply be a distraction – married life a distraction? He seems to suggest that marriage is a mechanism for those who cannot control themselves sexually and tells them to get married! (I wonder if this fulfills our Canonical requirements for marriage today!?)
What Jesus said about family is also, a best, ambiguous. Sometimes he is quite (and surprisingly) dismissive. We must be very careful not to read our own worldview into the text and jump to conclusions.
Beyond the Scriptures many theologians are more sympathetic to marriage and family as we understand it today. St Augustine sees marriage as a “cure for lust” and most important for procreation. He noted the need for love and a degree of mutuality. Augustine’s emphasis on procreation has permeated all our theology of marriage. The Church insists on the inseparability of the unitive and procreative (roots in natural law) – this stems from Augustine but seems to gain a real foothold much later in the 20th century?
Our theology of marriage and family life has developed over a number of years and, yes, there have been substantial changes before. A good example: It is interesting to note that NFP is innovative. Any attempt to block conception was deemed gravely sinful (Casti Connubi 1931 ) Natural Family Planning came along in the 60’s with Humanae Vitae and was a change in official Church teaching – you could use NFP. We can fight about the word “block” but in essence we went from no form of birth control to NFP.
Where does all this leave us?
Two things are clear: the context in which we talk about family today has undergone a revolution – society, the environment etc. has shifted and imposed new rules on the game – not just on the family but on world order altogether.
Second, the Church has never had a complete and clearly worked out theology of marriage and family. It has adapted, changed, developed and grown – not always reactively but sometimes proactively as new knowledge emerges.
The Family Synod
It is my contention that Pope Francis called this Synod primarily because of his pastoral concern. No doubt he recognises that our current way of dealing with the complex issues around marriage and family life is severely limited at best, exclusionary at worst.
I am convinced that Francis does not simply want to “reaffirm” what the Church has always said – perhaps changing some language so that it sounds a bit more palatable. There are, however, some people in the Church who do desire this as the outcome of the Synod. To do this would be a shame – it would perpetuate bad science and poor theology and would be a poor use of much time and energy.
He also knows, like many of us, that there is a huge gap between what the church teaches and the actual practice of many people – contraception being the obvious example. I am convinced – look at the opening and closing of the Synod the only two times Pope Francis spoke – that we wants the Church (through its pastoral lens) to think critically and creatively. He has quite clearly tried to create a culture of listening and dialogue – something people were less sure of and inclined to do in the last few papacies. All that he has said and done, it seems to me is to take on the pattern of Ignatian discernment. The key question for him is “What does God want us to do now, what is God’s will?” (I did not hear that question posed by many prominent church officials in the media during the Extra-Ordinary Synod!)
The Challenge of this Synod is:
1. To listen
Listen to the whole Church. Listen to every person who has experiences they want to share. The idea of a worldwide consultation is, I think, evidence of Francis’ desire to hear where people are. He knows some of the gaps. He wants us to articulate them.
Have the questionnaires been looked at considered, rephrased and answered with care? He says clearly “Lay people are, put simply, the vast majority of the People of God. The minority – ordained ministers – are at their service.” I wonder if the majority has taken their role in answering the questions and if the minority have encouraged that and is willing to listen to the responses in a spirit of service?
2. Overcome the culture of fear and silence
There has been (in recent history) a culture of fear and silence in the church. This has stifled discussion and theological enquiry and development. It has forced a “centralising management” on the church that has instructed rather than acted collaboratively. Again, and I apologise for quoting the Pope so many times, Francis says “More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules that make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving and Jesus does not tired of saying to us ‘Give them something to eat’ (Mk 6:37).” Are some of the current positions in the church just a false sense of security?
3. Seek the will of God and a culture of life in all life
Where is God in all this? What is God saying? A big challenge to approach things seeking God’s will and not to uphold status quo or interest of one group over another? All life experience needs to be heard and the question asked: What is God saying here? Let’s not be afraid of God’s dynamic Spirit! Let’s not pick and choose because we have certain bias!
4. Avoid wanting to “make sure the rules are explicit” – “defend a position”
Great temptation is to want to make the rules explicit or try and regulate more. There is also a great temptation to re-word things or use old approaches. We need new, creative ways of thinking about family. This is not to say that all we have does not work, for the most part we have a beautiful ideal. But the ideal is more the exception – and has been for centuries if we are really honest. Some people blame bad catechesis. I think that is an excuse for not going to the root of the problem. Life has tilted structures and systems, people struggle and family life is often the frontline of that struggle. Jesus came because of the struggle – it is not new! We should be opening our hearts and creatively re-launching our position on marriage and family life – one that is pro-life in all its varieties. Pope Francis warns of a complacent attitude that says “We have always done it this way” – this Synod cannot afford to do that.
There are new areas we need to look at and consider too – areas where great healing is needed:
The Synod offers us an opportunity to begin to develop some theological reflection about abuse in the family that goes beyond “abuse is wrong” and starts to deal with the complexity of living with and post abuse. The reality of how it takes many years to come to terms with sexual abuse – if survivors ever do – how victims feel shame (which they mostly re-interpret as guilt) how perpetrators are often victims themselves. This means processing our painful side as a Church too – clergy abuse. This affects our theology of family. How do we accompany and work with abusers, how do we accompany and work with victims – especially in situations where it may be impossible for them to escape their abusers – inside of families where the abuser is also the bread winner?
What about the impact of the cycles of violence against women in our country and the impact over time on them and their children? Young girls/women who are raped – whose children are conceived in rape? What about single parents whose daughters are raped… Young girls have said to me that when they attempted to tell a trusted elder relative they were raped the response is “that’s how men are, get over it”. Or you must “forgive and forget.” How do we reach out pastorally to both who are clearly in need of pastoral care – a care of mercy?
There are serious questions of the church’s pastoral role and the formation of priests to deal with complex issues like sexual abuse. Can we, to people who have been abused by men, talk about God as a “loving Father”?
5. Be more proactive towards family – in the broadest sense
How do we support family life better – in all dimensions of the Church? Pope Francis, speaking of what the church should be says, “… go out to others, seek those who have fallen away, stand at the crossroads and welcome the outcast.”
Marriage prep, enrichment, the education of children, healthcare advocacy of governments. It’s easy to lay down the law, what about support? How do we use language, symbols and gestures that reach the hearts of single parents? Does our liturgical language and form really help children/families or is it simply incomprehensible/alien to them?
How do we deal with the divorced and remarried? The current system does not work and often causes us to be perceived as difficult and unwelcoming in the worst way and not because we are “being” prophetic! This is not to say there should be no imperative but we cannot put into practice what we see people must do. In some dioceses people wait years for annulments! Let’s learn from the Eastern Orthodox position and rather than condemn people in broken relationships give them another lease on life and love. It is what Christ did to the thief on the cross – our divorced and remarried brothers and sisters, surely, would hear Jesus say “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
The final document of the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family declared, “People need to be accepted in the concrete circumstances of life.” This means, for example, re-examining whether divorced and remarried Catholics can receive Communion. We must talk this one out and hear all voices. Why can a murderer confess and be allowed to receive Communion while a divorced Catholic in a faithful second marriage cannot? These are important questions that we cannot continue to ignore; this would undermine our pastoral practice. Do we have hearts transformed enough by Christ and enlarged enough by him to consider other ways of doing things so that we draw people back to the table of the Lord and to the heart of God, into sacred space?
6. Overcome the power dynamics and need for control
The Synod is an ideal opportunity to return to being a “servant” model of church – one in which people and their needs are served so that they can grow in love of God and neighbour. I do not believe we have quite got there yet. Even the way part of this process have been handled show we have a long way to go.
Could or should the Catholic Church redefine the family at the upcoming Synod? To be the Church that Pope Francis wants it has to do something. We cannot simply reaffirm what we have. The world has changed, our knowledge has changed and the church has (and is) changing.
This does not mean that we have to “throw the baby out with the bathwater” but if we are going to be a credible witnesses to our world today we have find ways of being those witnesses which includes those who find themselves on the margins now. “Mercy” and “inclusion” (I believe) are key words.
Again, in Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis talks about an “ecclesial renewal” which cannot be deferred. I hope that redefining family is part of that renewal.
“Let Justice Flow Down – God and Economics” by Bishop Geoff Davies, SAFCEI
The world is facing multiple challenges, with burgeoning populations, diminishing resources, gross economic disparities, increasing poverty, environmental destruction. How do we meet these challenges? The Bible contains a number of principles regarding economics. These will be examined to see if we find answers to our dilemma.
I have set all of us quite a task. I accepted Brian Robertson’s invitation as I believe – and see – that we are fundamentally on the wrong course. We have to get onto the right track, just as we had to get on the right track in South Africa and remove the injustices of Apartheid. We now have global apartheid. We have a separation between ourselves and the rest of life on this planet, and between those who have and those who have not and are even having what little they may have, taken away.
I will be largely anecdotal and make no pretence of this being an academic lecture. And I readily admit that I studied theology, not economics but am greatly encouraged by the statement of, I think it was the Chilean economist Manfred Max Neef that “economics is too important to be left to economists”. We are all involved in and affected by economics and I ask you to look at it from a common-sense point of view. We shall then also see if we can gain insight from the Bible.
In brief, it is essential that we move the goals in our life and societies to planetary and socio-economic well-being, based on the Biblical principles of Justice and Equity, and away from the goal of economic growth and wealth accumulation.
Last week Kate and I returned from the Drakensberg, driving north of Lesotho to Graaff Reinet and back home on the R62 route.
It was a magnificent trip with a really interesting stay in Graaff Reinet – a beautiful town as you will know, within the horseshoe of the river. But on the outskirts, as with all the towns we passed, were hundreds of RDP houses and informal settlements, with thousands of people, with probably about 80% unemployment. Drive through the former Transkei, which we knew well, and what do you see? Children and young people meandering, with no occupation. This happens across South Africa.
And together with this, all the signs of overuse of the land – bare hills and the scars of deep erosion gullies. All this is indeed a ticking time bomb.
On our journey we listened to SAFM. Throughout the day we heard the state of the market, international exchange rates and the prospects of growth in economies. It was good news that the American economy was now growing, with rising employment, but concern that the Chinese growth rate was declining.
We are dominated by the prevailing mind-set of economic growth. This mind-set is upheld and promoted by most governments of the world and, of course, the IMF, World Bank, WEF – in other words, by most countries and institutions.
But surely this is necessary, you might say? After all, with burgeoning populations and the call for at least two billion people to be lifted from poverty, we have to have economic growth. Our politicians would say it is obvious.
There are two fundamental objections to this.
The first is, of course, that we live on a finite planet with the limited resources, even though we behave as if we have to use them as fast as we can.
The second objection is that we have known for some time that our present neo-liberal economic system is simply not working. In fact it is a disaster! Certainly it is benefiting the rich – dare I say the capitalists? – but it is also a direct cause of increasing poverty and environmental destruction. The wealth generated during our neoliberal era has overwhelmingly gone to those who were already rich – to the top 10%, and even the top 1%, with only 10% of increased wealth going to people in the poorest half of the world’s population. 85 people hold more wealth than half the world’s population. As a follower of Jesus Christ I can only say that this is an affront to God!
As I prepared for this talk I asked myself if I was really right to question the prevailing assumption about economic growth. I am a believer in God incidences! On our return home the latest copy of “Resurgence” magazine arrived. In it was a review by Jonathon Porritt, previously director of the Sustainability Institute in the UK before David Cameron closed it down, of a book by Kerryn Higgs “Collision course: Endless growth on a finite planet”. In it she examines the “limits to growth” debate as well as unearthing the political reasons why the sheer infeasibility of continuous exponential growth on a finite planet has been almost totally ignored over the last 30 years.
Why is it that the “limits to growth” common-sense view has been so singularly disregarded? I take the liberty of quoting from Jonathon Porritt’s review of the book:
“We are all very familiar these days with the narrative about climate denial and the way in which an immensely powerful cabal of the superrich and neoliberal fundamentalists has very successfully undermined the science of climate change. This is a battle that has been waged both through quasi-academic think tanks and through the outlets of dominant media conglomerates.
“Exactly the same malign forces have been at work (from the mid-1970s onwards) to disparage the “limits to growth” thesis, to undermine the case for effective environmental regulation and to create the institutional and political mechanisms to prioritise globalisation, free trade and economic growth through personal consumption as the only route to prosperity.
“The links between this ideological crusade, the astonishing power of the advertising industry and the self-interests of big corporations, may well surprise business leaders as well as environmental campaigners.
But, he continues to write “there is no way this ideological crusade could have achieved such a comprehensive victory were it not for the fact that the Left has been just as enthusiastic as anyone on the Right about what is seen as the non-negotiable primacy of economic growth”.
And so I was encouraged to allow common-sense to prevail and to follow books that have been maintaining the need for limits to growth since the 1970s when we saw the publication of the Club of Rome’s book “The Limits to Growth”.
Among books I would like to give credit to are:
E F Schumacher: “Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered”. Still a classic.
Ulrich Duchrow: Alternatives to Global Capitalism. Drawn from biblical history, designed for political action.
Herman Daly: Steady State Economics and Ecological Economics.
Our own Margaret Legum “It doesn’t have to be like this”
But in particular the Lutheran professor who was teaching in Pietermaritzburg, Klaus Nürnberger: Beyond Marx and Market and Prosperity, Poverty and Pollution – Managing the approaching crisis, from Cluster Publications in Pietermaritzburg.
The great thing about Professor Nürnberger is that he examines the issues facing us from economic, environmental and theological perspectives, unlike many university economic departments who, I am told, look at life purely from an economic perspective.
Add to these:
Richard Heinberg: The End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality
Richard Douthwaite: The Growth Illusion: How economic growth has enriched the few, impoverished the many and endangered the planet.
And Naomi Klein: This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs The Climate.
All point to the absurdity of unlimited economic growth policies. Margaret Legum did say that I should not argue against growth as such, but argue for the right kind of growth. That could be key as we campaign against the economic growth paradigm.
Naomi Klein is quite devastating in her critique of capitalism and the growth of globalisation which coincided with the 1992 Rio Conference. World bodies have favoured capital growth over environmental and social care and responsibility.
Fascinating is her analysis of climate denialism, which the US Right wing strongly supports. To acknowledge the reality of climate change would “fundamentally change the American way of life, choking off economic development.” (US Chamber of Commerce 2008)
Einstein said that you can’t solve a problem with the same policy that caused it. For long we have known that our present neoliberal economic policy is not the right way to move ahead, even though the free marketers trumpeted that it was the only way, following the collapse of Marxism. Communism, as implemented, was disastrous, but that does not make our present neoliberal policy right.
The problem was the challenge to say what is right. What are the alternatives to our current neoliberal Washington consensus capitalist system?
It was then that I was introduced to Charles Eisenstein with his books Sacred Economics and The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible, and I thought, “Here is the way forward”.
He is not proposing a revolution, but a transformation of economics. His opening words are: The purpose of this book is to make money and human economy as sacred as everything else in the universe. That means using it aright and applying ethics to our economic decision making. This is anathema to the free marketers as money – capital – must be free to find the best growth and profits.
Charles Eisenstein does not write from a religious perspective, but puts forward ethical, biblical and spiritual principles which I want to examine with you.
1) Planet of plenty: This incredible planet Earth is an amazing planet of abundance – as well as wonder and beauty and intricacy. I think it behoves us well to be reminded that it has taken 4 billion years to reach the state of beauty and magnificence we now experience and 14 billion years since the start of the universe.
On this planet of abundance we have the wonderful riches of forest and wildlife and marine resources, as well as an abundance of agricultural produce, minerals and energy. And we know that we are dependent on clean water, unpolluted air with an ambient climate, land to grow crops on, and the warmth and energy of the sun.
But we have made this planet of plenty one of scarcity by hoarding and controlling our resources for selfish purposes. Our present economic system aids and abets this.
Food is possibly the best example. 40%, or even 50%, of food is wasted every day while over 2 billion people go hungry. We have multinational corporations who now control the seeds, the growing, the transport, the marketing and advertising of food. What is an essential to life is commercialised and controlled. We know there are companies who would wish to do the same with water and have done so. Water again is an essential of life. All creatures have the right to water.
Prioritise people and planet – rather than profit – and we can overcome hunger.
2) Gift economy: Charles writes at considerable length about this. Many of you will know of talent exchanges where you give of your talents in exchange for something which you need. He takes it further than this. Writing from the perspective of the United States he describes how life has become so commercialised that it undermines community. An example is of a babysitter. Instead of developing community, getting to know your neighbours and helping out when you can, it is commercialised and you pay for the babysitter.
We clearly see in our own country that the increasing commercialisation of life is undermining that wonderful gift of Africa – Ubuntu. With the gift of Ubuntu we recognise our interdependence on each other and the importance of community.
He takes it further – share what you have. Give away what you don’t need to those in need. Why hoard things when they could bring life to others? Following the United States, we have increasing numbers of storage places where we store our unused – and unneeded? – things. Do we keep them for that rainy day when we may need them?
Did Jesus not say it is more blessed to give than to receive? Did he not say you should give your coat when you are asked? An investment adviser told us recently that those with the most money are the most reluctant to give it away! He asked one client who had R160 million worth of investments if he would give to a particular charity and there was an adamant refusal, yet those with a few hundred thousand Rand were keen to tithe to charity.
A gift economy would not necessarily entail transforming our economic system but a transformation within ourselves.
The Old Testament is quite clear about economic principles: justice and equity.
Justice: The Old Testament prophets are unanimous in their call for justice and their condemnation of injustice, notably economic injustice, epitomised by those moving words of Amos “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:24)
Justice provides the foundation for our ethics and a civilised society. The principles of love and compassion build on the foundation of justice.
Equity: when God led the Israelites through the wilderness and fed them with Manna from Heaven, recall that he told them: “Gather as much of the bread that the Lord has given as each of you needs….Those who gathered much had nothing over, and those who gathered little had no shortage; they gathered as each of them needed. And Moses said to them, “Let no one leave any of it over till morning.” But they did not listen to Moses; some left part of it till morning, and it bred worms and became foul.”
God provides for our needs, but not our greed. Our present day world must be extremely disturbing to our creator God.
The Church needs to be far bolder in following the Old Testament prophets and proclaiming: Thus saith the Lord! Archbishops Desmond and Denis Hurley spoke out boldly against the injustices of Apartheid. Now we need to speak out about economic injustice and environmental exploitation. We give huge thanks that Pope Francis is now speaking out boldly.
3) Negative interest: this is where I found Charles pretty complex, especially when we combine negative interest with inflation! But I think its essential principle is clear. We have had, if not negative, an extremely low interest rate in many countries since the 2008 financial collapse. Of course we have been complaining that we get negligible return on our savings in a bank. But that is the point.
Instead of putting your money in a bank and speculating on financial exchange where billions of dollars circulate the globe changing hands every 14 seconds, I am told, invest your money into something constructive for people, for planet and for yourself. Use your money to build a factory or a school or a hospital or to restore the natural environment. Be creative. Build society and care for our life support systems.
When you look at the story of the universe you will see that it is one of creativity. Speaking as a Christian, we know that our God is a creator God. God has brought into being an incredibly beautiful world. God wants us to use our creativity to build and further life and love. God did not create us to be selfish and hoard and destroy.
But why are positive interest rates so deplorable? After all, it forms the basis of our present-day capitalist system. With positive interest rates you lend people money and encourage people and governments to go into debt to get what they want now and not to wait for the future.
The problem is that with our present system you have to go on ‘growing’. You have to catch more fish, cut down more forests, drill for more oil, get people to buy more goods, to pay back the interest and to keep the system going.
And so if you go to the bank to ask for R1 million to buy an indigenous forest that you wish to protect and preserve, the bank will laugh you out of court. If you say you can make a good profit out of this indigenous forest the bank will readily lend you the money and you will have to cut enough trees to pay back R100,000 a year, if it was 10% interest. Likewise, if you borrow money to build a bigger fishing boat, you have to catch more fish to pay back your loan.
With the negative interest rates your money would depreciate if it was just left in the bank, whereas your investment in the indigenous forest would be an asset increasing in value over the years. More important, if you invested your money in a factory that employs people and provides goods that are needed, you would get a return on your money and be involved in developing society and overcoming unemployment.
You will recall that Usury is condemned in both the Bible and the Koran and it seems for good reason.
I would also add here that how you use your money and what it is used for is a most important aspect of your Christian responsibility. Is your money used for the good of society, people and the planet, or is it is used for destructive purposes? Is our money used to further the armaments trade or to build hospitals?
So often we just want to know that our investments are getting a good return. However, ethical investments are becoming increasingly important.
The growing divestments campaign from fossil fuels is becoming critically important. Last year the oil companies invested something like $560 billion in exploring and developing new oil resources, yet we know that we cannot burn all the oil and coal that is in the ground if we and our children are to have a future on this planet. The only way, it seems, to put a halt to the profit-driven drive of oil companies is to disinvest. We had somehow to end Apartheid in South Africa. We now have to bring an end to the domination and drive of the fossil fuel companies, and our continuing addiction to fossil fuels.
In saying this we are not being negative. We are saying, invest in renewable energy. God has given us all the energy we need from the sun – they say 10,000 times more energy at any given moment than we need. We have only to harvest it. We know we can get all the energy we need from sun, wind and water. It is also reported that if the United States had spent what it did on armaments over the last decade it would have been able to provide the world with the renewable energy resources needed to provide for our energy needs. Again, this is a justice issue. Let us get our priorities right!
Climate change is going to be devastating unless we take urgent steps to counteract it. Yet the continent that has done the least to cause climate change – Africa – will suffer the most. If global average temperature increases rise by 2°, it is said that in Africa temperatures will increase by four or 5°C.
There is justifiable argument that the developed North is in ecological debt to Africa, the way they have exploited our people and our resources. If they now seek justice they could enable developing countries to leapfrog the polluting fossil fuel era to the clean renewable energy era, bringing lights and electricity across the dark continent. The latest developments in both solar and wind generation, combined with the exciting advent of the new Telsa Power Wall battery, could bring decentralised electricity to the homes of Africa which could end the ongoing and destructive practice of cutting down the trees of Africa for charcoal.
Seeking greater justice and sharing the wealth of the world would also bring down population increases in developing countries. People reduce the number of children they bring into this world, not when there is greater wealth, but when there is security. Let justice roll down.
There is now a burgeoning growth in extractive industries, particularly in Africa. Our government supports this and South African companies are in Africa boots and all. They would argue that they are bringing wealth and employment to the people and countries of Africa. With growing populations there is an ever increasing demand for minerals and energy needed to bring about development. The reality is clearly stated by Vandana Shiva in an excellent publication by the Gaia Foundation: Opening Pandora’s Box, The New Wave of Land Grabbing by the Extractive Industries.
“It’s not about what we need; it’s about pure greed. It’s the greed of the corporations that want to push consumption of these metals to sell the products they want to sell. And there’s a higher level of greed which is being driven by investment. The financial world is turning to metals and minerals as a place for growth and that too is driving mining on a scale that goes way beyond human need.” Vandana Shiva
4) Mammon: Mammon is not money as such but accumulated wealth. Here again we are faced with a question of our own attitudes, beliefs and goals in life. Is our goal to accumulate as much wealth as possible or to live a fulfilling creative and enjoyable and worthwhile life on our planet with clean air and clear flowing streams and surroundings filled with the variety of life God has brought into being?
You will recall that Jesus said you cannot serve God and Mammon. Yet what is the goal of our present day world? Get rich, get rich, get rich. It is a mantra we hear and see daily on our televisions and in a glossy magazines.
The governments of the world proclaim that by getting rich we will overcome all our problems. Certainly, we need to overcome poverty, but unless we are guided by ethical principles of justice, love and compassion then we know increased wealth is not going to solve the manifold challenges we face.
It is now well known that once a level of security is reached, increased wealth does not bring about greater happiness and welfare.
Aristotle said there were two economic systems we could follow – the need system or the greed system. He said it would be disastrous if we followed the greed system. Guess which we have followed.
Because wealth has become the goal, because so many rewards are offered through acquiring wealth, people resort to the most heinous and horrendous practices. So we poach rhino and elephant near to extinction; we traffic drugs and wildlife and people; we make billions out of the arms trade and weapons of destruction.
You may have seen the film some years ago Slum Dog Millionaire. There is that incredibly disturbing scene of a young girl’s eyes being put out so that the men can hold her enslaved as a beggar for them. It is almost unbelievable that some people can behave so gruesomely to make money for themselves.
A few months ago the Cape Times Motoring supplement reported on a new McLaren sports car costing R26 million. 375 people had ordered one. Why? It could do 100 kms in 3.26 seconds, or something like that. But why would one want to do that?
Is it just prestige and satisfying one’s ego which is what so much of our consumer economics is about? Archbishop Geoffrey Clayton used to say: Examine your motives!
The book ‘The Spirit Level’ reports from extensive research that the more equal a society, the more healthy, stable and happy it is. In more unequal societies there is greater violence, mental and physical ill-health, social unrest. We in South Africa have an horrendously high crime and violence rate. We also have the highest inequality rate in the world. Can we not put two and two together? Countries like Malawi and Mozambique don’t have the wealth of South Africa, but there is far less crime. How would you behave if you were without food or drink, while you saw the obscene wealth of some?
A more just world is a more peaceful world and a much happier one – surprise! Why does it not happen? Because we not only allow but encourage the pursuit of wealth, to meet our greed.
A few years ago I preached at my old school, Diocesan College. Bishops was founded by Bishop Grey for the education of the sons of clergy and to bring the light of the Gospel to the people of Africa. I said that what was needed now was to bring about an understanding of our need to live in harmony with the natural environment.
What was the point, I asked, of seeking to acquire wealth if we were killing the planet in the process? Far better, devote your lives to caring for the planet and preserving life. I suspect that my sermon went down like a brick!
What do we do with our increased wealth? We have a more lavish home, more luxurious car and a more exotic holiday – while millions have not even clean water to drink, and life is threatened.
Our goal should not be the acquisition of wealth. It should be the pursuit of well-being, or can we call it sustainability or, as Jesus said, life in all its fullness. Life in all its fullness does not mean wealth, it means a fulfilled life so that we are able to benefit from and share in the abundance of beauty and resources of this amazing planet, our only home.
Michael Ramsey, that lovely Archbishop of Canterbury, once said that when you get to heaven – and I like his saying when and not if – our Lord will ask you if you enjoyed the world God had made for you. This is really clever because on the one hand it is asking whether you have led a fulfilled life, living in harmony with others and with God’s world, or whether you were so trapped in poverty and exploitation you could not enjoy life.
We may not change our economic system soon. Those in control and with wealth and power will strongly resist change and rallied to uphold the system following the 2008 financial collapse, which we should remember was caused by the very institutions that were then propped up. But remember, we did not know when we would get rid of Apartheid, and suddenly it was happening. The question is whether we can bring about change before it is too late. Climate change has some harsh time lines, less than a decade significantly to reduce carbon emissions.
While we continue to struggle to establish greater economic justice, environmental destruction continues apace – growing alarmingly, so that we are facing a number of tipping points, where our natural life support systems can no longer bear the demands we make on them and we experience sudden collapse.
These include, possibly the most serious, biodiversity loss and extinctions threatening the evolution of life, together with ocean acidification and pollution, depletion and pollution of fresh water and land, deforestation. These all threaten food security, as marine resources collapse, land is eroded and rainfall is unreliable.
As we know, one of the greatest of threats is climate change. Here there could be tipping points. With warming oceans, less carbon is absorbed. The Tundra in the Arctic could melt and release millions of tons of Methane, far more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2. With recurring drought the Amazon could become a massive carbon emitter and no longer a carbon sink. We would have runaway global warming and could do nothing to stop it. The oceans would rise a metre at least. I need not describe the impact of the sea reclaiming the Cape Flats!
Our dilemma is that we are hungry for more energy, while at the same time we have to reduce the burning of fossil fuels. And the constant cry of the government is that we need more energy to bring about economic growth.
But maybe there are solutions staring us in the face. First, we can get all the energy we need from renewable sources. It is shining on us daily and blowing in the wind, and can be small scale and decentralised.
Secondly, the parallel crisis to environmental destruction is poverty and unemployment. The unemployment rate among young people in South Africa is well over 50%.
But while the government calls for more energy, we know that energy intensive machines do people out of jobs! What skills do the majority of young people have – the 80% who don’t even reach matric? “I can do anything” they say, which means their only skill is their strength. But let us use their asset. Let us benefit from the energy and strength of our people, using intermediate technology. There are so many new low energy inventions we can utilise. Train our young people in building and construction and organic agriculture, replacing the energy intensive machines that replace so many people in factories and farms and construction. We have already lost half a million jobs on the land, from 2004 to last year. Environmentally, we cannot follow the American fossil fuel based agriculture. Let us develop labour intensive organic agriculture.
We have known this since the Luddite rebellions. Their weaving was done on hand looms in their own cottages. There was skill and pride in their work. They were replaced by shockingly paid factory workers, where no skill was required.
The English Parliament sided with the mill owners. Some Luddite leaders were hanged and others sent to Australia.
In Charles Eisenstein’s words:
“The Luddites were outraged not only by their loss of livelihood but by the shoddy products, numbing tedium, constant danger, and dehumanising conditions of the factories. They were resisting the mechanisation of Labour. The replacement of highly skilled, autonomous production with a degrading, dangerous factory work is an affront to the human spirit.”
But, I am told, nowhere have people wanted to revert to less industrialised systems. The reality is that we may have to. How else do we lower our energy consumption and increase employment?
But this does mean we learn to value the energy of our fellow human beings.
We also need to recycle, repair and reuse our material constructs. A pox on our throw away consumer society! Make things that last, and can be repaired!
Every time I fly I am appalled at all the throw away items, and wish that we could employ people who would wash the cutlery and plates for reuse!
We don’t because it costs less, and therefore increases profits, to have a throw-away society. We don’t internalise the costs of land fill sites and the impact of mining and drilling for oil on our land, water resources and atmosphere. Have you seen photographs of the tar sands mining in Canada? Has our government really considered the impact of fracking on the ground water of the Karoo – on which life in the Karoo depends?
The key is living in harmony with nature and the natural environment. The question for every enterprise should be “will this build society and care for the natural environment, or bring greater inequality and environmental degradation?”
I have to say that under our present system, the assessment is “what profit will it bring?”
Our goal should be how little we consume, not how much! But we know that the capitalist system is premised on growth, without which there is collapse. This would be disastrous, so the growth economists argue that growth must continue, to keep employment high, so you must go on buying the latest gadget and more clothes and a new car, to keep the economy going. The Americans are told it is patriotic to do so.
Unless, as Charles Eisenstein explains, you redistribute wealth. Today’s world, on this planet of plenty, has sufficient resources to care for all. Though the rich will object to redistribution, there are a variety of ways of doing it.
BIG: There is one way of redistribution which the government could implement with urgency – the Basic Income Grant, BIG, described by Charles as the ‘Social Dividend’. It would not have all the costs of administering social benefits, and the rich would pay it back in tax.
Implementing BIG would help overcome hunger, poverty, crime, violence, alcoholism, prostitution, ill-health, you name it, – because people will be living in greater security.
For those who would argue that it would lead to a nation of lazy people, I would respond that there is in all of us – all of us here in this hall – a spirit of creativity. We yearn to be creative and constructive in our lives; to think we have accomplished something, that our lives have been worthwhile.
Unlike the free marketers who hold that profit is the driving incentive, I believe that doing something worthwhile with our lives is the incentive. Those who don’t are trapped in the great delusion that wealth is the driving force and goal of life. And that is our dilemma – today’s world worships Mammon, the Golden calf, and not the living God!
I did not intend ending on a hortatory note! What I am saying is that in the great purpose of the universe, we are to be creative and constructive. Our finances are there to assist us in this process. We are not here to serve the Golden calf.
I was encouraged that our new Finance Minister, Minister Nhlanhla Nene, spoke of Economic Development, not growth, and that he recognises the need for social development. We need to assist him to bring it about!
The great collision will happen if we don’t change course and take action. It might be the planet taking action, saying that there are just too many of this one species – about two billion of us is optimal. But what does that say of a loving, compassionate God? God is calling us now to be responsible and care for this incredible creation.
To conclude: We must learn to live in harmony with the rest of creation. Our money is but the tool, the resource to enable and assist us to fulfil our responsibility. As Charles Eisenstein puts it:
“Just as no piece of sacred economy can stand alone, so also does each piece naturally induce the others. But if there is a linchpin, it is the end of growth, the transition of the human species to a new relationship with Earth, a new story of the people. Ultimately, it is our emerging desire to be Earth’s partner, and our new found spiritual realisation of the uniqueness and connectedness of all beings, that underlies what I have called sacred economics”. (Page 345)
Understanding Jesus in the Context of Evolution
by Fr Gerard McCabe CssR
I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full
In 1988 Pope John Paul addressed a conference called to examine the relationship between evolution and religion. He raised a most interesting and challenging question:
Does an evolutionary perspective bring any light to bear on the meaning of the human person as the image of God, the problem of Christology and even upon the development of doctrine itself? Dialogue with evolution has on the whole being lacking among those engaged in theological research and teaching.
Such a dialogue is needed to provide some help to assist those who are “struggling to integrate the worlds of science and religion in their own intellectual and spiritual lives.
The nature of this lecture is not to offer definitive answers to all questions but rather to allow ourselves to look at our faith and our understanding of Jesus from a slightly different angle. It is speculative rather than definitive. It looks at possibilities rather than certainties. I owe almost complete debt for the substance of this lecture to a book by Jack Mahoney, written in 2010, entitled Christianity in Evolution.
As human beings we are entirely the product of divine altruism, the effect of the sheer creative generosity of God. It is the nature of goodness to communicate itself.
Originating in God, altruism also epitomises the moral teaching of Jesus, God become man, who continually proclaimed His Father’s love for His human creatures, exemplified this throughout his own life, and continually inviting human beings to also exercise their own complete selfless altruism towards God and their brothers and sisters.
From this perspective, God always knew that he would send His Son to become incarnate amongst the human race, to be the perfect example of divine altruism and to show us how to transcend our natural evolutionary selfishness.
Jesus’ moral teaching can thus be seen in itself as a major evolutionary step in the moral advancement of the human species.
In accepting the violent death thrust upon him, Jesus held out to human beings a wonderful example of supreme altruism in living out his unselfish loyalty to His love of the Father.
God therefore created human beings in the image of His own altruism. So, altruism can be identified as the divinely inspired moral evolutionary goal of the human species. Human altruism ushers the evolving human species to a new level of existence and moral goodness whose aim is to increase the solidarity of the human race and to show that we as individuals are created in the image of an altruistic God, and as people destined to share fully in the inner richness of the love of the Blessed Trinity.
2 THE EVOLUTIONARY ACHIEVEMENT OF JESUS
In accepting death as a human being and in his rising from the dead, Jesus achieved a new phase of evolutionary existence for human beings. In this, He would save us from individual death and extinction, which is the evolutionary fate of all living beings. So, absolutely, Jesus achieved something in His death.
In evolutionary terms, the death of Jesus brought about a cosmic change for humanity, taking us from a human life that ends in death and extinction to a new form of human living.
This might appear to be at variance with the traditional Christian understanding that what Jesus brought about by his death and resurrection was the saving of the human race from original sin and the Fall of Adam and Eve.
In this traditional view, death is viewed as God’s punishment for human disobedience. But within an evolutionary framework, the death of human beings and all living beings is rather understood as a biological necessity and requirement.
So in an evolutionary theology , there is no need for the idea of an original life of bliss shared by Adam Eve which is then marred by the Fall, nor for the belief that God became man in order to overcome the effects of original sin on all human beings.
Again, the Resurrection of Jesus brings an evolutionary breakthrough for humanity. The profoundly Good News is that through Jesus human beings are being saved from the evolutionary fate of individual mortality.
In the light of evolution, dying is a fact of evolutionary life and does not require any further explanation, as opposed to the Jewish and Christian explanatory account of the Fall. The death of Jesus is not therefore a saving from some original sin, under which we are all bound. Rather, the evolutionary purpose of the death of Jesus, which he freely undertook, was to move us beyond individual mortality and to introduce us to the final state of our being, which is everlasting fulfilment for which we are destined by the grace of a loving God.
Jesus voyaged through death in an act of sacrifice, not to appease the Father for the original sin that supposedly marks all human beings, but so that through rising to a new life he might offer to all human beings the prospect of living beyond their own death into everlasting communion with God.
It has been a long tradition within Catholic theology, particularly strong within the Medieval period that Christ was always intended to become incarnate and to share our human condition. In more recent times, Tielhard de
Chardin made the claim that “Christ is the measure of and at the head of all creation. The essence of Christianity is simply and solely belief in the unification of the world in God through the Incarnation”. And again: “The primary motive of the Incarnation is not to counteract the effects of sin in the world, but to unite all reality, material, and spiritual, natural and supernatural, divine and human, in the Person of the Incarnate Word.”
So it is no longer necessary within an evolutionary framework to cling to the notion that Jesus came to share our human life simply to overcome the results of the Fall, and from original sin. The traditional view that all human beings are born marked by original sin was largely the result of the views of St Augustine. It was a view developed further in medieval times by St Anselm, with his views on the reason for the Incarnation. In his understanding, the dignity of God was grievously offended by the sin of Adam and Eve, and satisfaction could only be made by Jesus, the Son of God, cancelling out the original sin, through his death on the Cross. Thus, the view developed that the purpose of the death of Jesus was Atonement, so that human beings could be restored from their state of alienation from God.
But we are left with a question raised by Peter Abelard, also in the medieval period. “Could not God just have forgiven Adam and Eve?”
We can now take the view that a connection between the Fall, and Original Sin and the Crucifixion is no longer theologically required if in fact there was no original sin, and no Fall to be compensated for by Christ. But the question then arises: What therefore was the purpose of the death of Jesus?
3 THE PURPOSE OF THE DEATH OF JESUS
In making the claim that it is no longer necessary to cling to the notions of the Fall and Original Sin, or to the idea of the death of Jesus as a great act of Atonement to the Father, one is of course not denying the harsh reality of sin and evil and suffering. Indeed, it takes only a moment of self-reflection to realise that we are morally weak, prone to sin and selfishness, and that the sin of the world brings huge anguish to individuals, as well as to society as a whole, and indeed our whole environment.
Perhaps, in evolutionary terms, built around the notion of the survival of the fittest, we can understand something of why selfishness and self-interest plays such a role in our experience of life. But we must recognise too, that the real sin of the world is the result of human freedom. In a life where we have been given the gift of free will, all of us inevitably sometimes act against the good and make moral decisions that are both sinful and cause great suffering to others. So the horror of sin and evil is simply impossible to deny.
Coming to the question of the death of Jesus, we have to acknowledge that for those who believe in Him, this remains the central sin of the world. One might argue that Jesus died because, on the one hand he was perceived to be a real threat to the religious authorities of his tradition, and on the other, considered to be a political threat to the Roman authorities. This would tell us something of the truth.
At a deeper, and much more significant level, Jesus died because, in a sinful world, he paid the price for being a perfect human being. The good are always a threat to those who are sinful, and for Jesus, this perfection and his willingness to die for pure goodness, takes on cosmic significance. So, the element of the sacrifice of the Cross remains in all its centrality, despite the fact that we no longer need to view the Crucifixion as the means by which original sin is redeemed, or that Jesus died as a form of Atonement to the Father. In his faithfulness to His mission to be the Good News of God to the world he did take upon himself the sin of the world and in His death and Resurrection he remains indeed Our Saviour and Redeemer. Through his death, we are enabled to live in the hope that, despite all our weaknesses, sin will not be the final word in human life.
On another level, we can claim that Jesus freely accepted death at the hands of his fellow human beings to manifest his totally faithful love of the Father and to show his care for all sinful humanity. He thus expresses and exemplifies in human terms the mutual altruism, or generous love of the Trinity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. His death also serves as a witness to all humanity that it is indeed possible for us to live a human life that shows the same altruism and love for others.
Another point of view can also be seen as significant and helpful to our life as disciples. Through his death and Resurrection, Jesus took on the harsh reality of death as an evolutionary fate, and in overcoming it, made it possible for all humanity to be likewise saved from the evolutionary fate of death, and to thereby be offered the possibility of surviving bodily death in order to share in the eternal communion of the Holy Trinity.
4 THE CHURCH AND THE EUCHARIST IN EVOLUTION
The Question of Salvation
One of the things that has troubled many of us as Catholics is the long held view that there is no possible salvation for those who do not share our Catholic faith. That this view is still held by many Catholics reveals how deeply embedded it remains in our Catholic memory and tradition.
At the Council of Florence, held in 1442, the following position was stated with the utmost clarity:
“No one outside the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews, heretics and schismatics, can become sharers in eternal life, but are headed for the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels unless they join the Church before they die”.
It must be wonderful to live with such absolute certainty about all those who lived before the coming of Christ, or who never had the opportunity of hearing of the Gospel in their time on earth. But then, our Catholic Church has not always been known for its faithfulness to the love and mercy and compassion of Jesus!
Fortunately, the Church itself has evolved from these kind of views. We can thank the Second Vatican Council for permitting us to view the whole question of salvation in much more optimistic terms:
“Divine Providence does not deny the aids needed for salvation to those who through no fault of their own have not yet arrived at an express acknowledgement of God, but who by the help of his grace try to lead a good life”.
This view enables us to take an ethical approach to our understanding of salvation, through the notion of human altruism, which as we saw earlier is nothing other than a reflection of the altruism which marks the relationship between the Persons of the Holy Trinity. Again, from an evolutionary perspective, the overcoming of selfishness and the movement of the human heart towards love and altruism can be expressed in human behaviour in an infinite number of ways and within every religion and culture. All such forms of love and care for one another and for our planet become ways in which all people are being led into community and fellowship with the Risen Christ.
We must acknowledge that, historically speaking, the Eucharist has been described in essentially sacrificial terms as a ritual participation in Christ’s offering of his suffering and death to the Father, for the purpose of reconciling alienated humanity. We of course still remain conscious of the fact that the Eucharist can be described as the memorial of Jesus’ sacrifice to help us overcome the effects of sin.
But, in the light of evolution, we are also being invited to understand the meaning of the Eucharist as directly related to what has been achieved for us. In the Eucharist we are not simply remembering the sacrifice of Christ, but we are ritually celebrating the freely accepted suffering and death of Christ as the divinely chosen means of enabling the human species transcend the finality of death in order to live together as a community participating fully in the life of God for eternity.
Jesus was very much aware of the fact that his life and his preaching was leading him towards an inevitable death. This he freely accepted as part of God’s mysterious will for bringing in the Kingdom. The celebration of the Last Supper was intended to remain as a sign of Jesus ‘rejection and death, and a witness to His love for the world. The gift of the Eucharist enabled all his disciples and future followers to keep Christ and all his significance alive in their minds and hearts; in other words, to build up the Church. None of this meaning has been lost to us. But, within an evolutionary perspective, we have the added gift of celebrating the Eucharist as also a sign that in the death and Resurrection of Jesus we are given the gift of an evolutionary leap forward. We are no longer the kind of beings who cease to exist when we die. Through the gift of Our Redeemer we are enabled to live in the truly New Covenant, to live in eternal communion with God and with one another.
Another feature of the Eucharist for us is that it remains a necessary means for us to build up the Church in the real love of God. In offering his body and blood to his disciples Jesus unites in communion with Him and with each other in a gift and invitation to share the love of God with one another and with the world. This is what is meant in that ancient text within the Church that we should become what we receive.
A brief word needs to be said about our understanding of baptism within the perspective of evolution. Since the time of St Augustine, the major focus on the role of baptism was that it was necessary for us to be baptised in order to be washed clean from the stain of original sin. Once we accept that we no longer need to the notion of original sin as a defining factor of human nature, we are liberated to understand baptism in much more enlightening terms.
Baptism remains the sacrament of initiation into the people of God and to the community of the Church. The symbol of water remains significant in that it dramatically conveys the ideas of new life and of the power of the Holy Spirit. We can still clearly understand that baptism serves as a sacrament marking our movement from death to rebirth in Christ.
We began with a text from John’s Gospel that states ” I have come that you may have life and have it to the full. Within the evolutionary perspective that I have offered, we discover a richness that goes beyond all our dreams. The ultimate aim of Jesus’ incarnation, His sharing of our human condition, including His suffering and death, allows all of us to overcome the finality of death and to lead us to an eternal life within the Communion of the Holy Trinity. This can only leave us astounded and filled with thankfulness.
Why promoting the ideas of Vatican II won’t work without institutional changes: the (in)credibility of the catholic church in the context of modernity
I argue that promoting the ideas of Vatican II won’t work without institutional change. The reason is that questioning centralization – as Vatican II and WAACSA think we should – is to defy, or disobey, the centralization that is instituted as the defining mark of your very membership of the church. (According to the rules, you are baptized – or confirmed – by a priest who is ordained by a bishop who is chosen by the Pope who is the vicar of Christ who is the Son of God.) So by this kind of questioning you forfeit the integrity of your membership, the way you have taken your place in the institutional pyramid.
This can be put in the form of a syllogism:
Premise 1: The defining mark of your membership of the church is the way you have taken your place in the institutional pyramid, the pope at the head, the bishops, the ordinary clergy, the laity.
Premise 2: By questioning this kind of institutional, pyramidical structure, you forfeit the integrity of your membership, thus of reforming from within.
Conclusion: Reform groups (Vatican II, Waacsa) promoting a very different ideal of being church, won’t gain any ground among members in the absence of institutional change, i.e. a different practice of membership.
The point about a valid syllogism is that if one wants to disagree with the conclusion one has to show that either Premise 1, or Premise 2, or both, are false. This is useful for general discussion of the issue. And of course Premise 1 can immediately be questioned. This pyramidical structure was never exactly how the church was, as Edmund Hill shows in his enlightening study of Ministry and Authority in the Catholic Church (1984) and the Second Vatican Council, as we know, put a different slant on the church’s self-conception. Firstly it emphasized the church not as an organization managed by bishops but a communion with God through Jesus, a sacramental unity. It is a group of people signalling something and enacting what it signals: “intimate union with God and global unity” (Lumen Gentium, 1). Secondly it described the church not as a hierarchy but as “the people of God”, with the priest enacting the more basic “priesthood of all the faithful”. Thirdly, the church is a communion of churches, with real regional autonomy. Fourthly, non-Roman Catholic churches are recognized as valid although separated. Fifthly, revelation is not a series of dogmatic statements about God but God’s own self-communication to us. Sixthly, the proper way the church should speak about herself is in a language intelligible to all in our secular culture, for example with our concerns about economic and political justice.
So why is the further implementation of these ideas largely blocked? This is due to the message conveyed, de facto, by the way the church continues to institutionalize itself, sending a very different message both to the members and to those outside. This is what we’ll now look at. The conclusion that I argue cannot be avoided is that, in order for the Vatican II ideas to gain ground in the open minds of the people of God is to send out, in our own way practical way, a different message. It can’t be the who’s in and who’s out focus. There is no favouritism with God (Rom 211); our minds “should be filled with everything that is true, honourable,.. everything that is good and praiseworthy” (Phil 48). But in an institutional, bureaucratic mentality, priority is given not to respecting goodness wherever it is found but rather to the rules of the institution, the rules of membership. And I want furthermore to draw attention, in the second part to this talk, to the alienating effect in our lives of the large bureaucratic institutions, economic, political, legal, religious, that have come to dominate modern culture, and to the fundamentalist, identity-obsessed reaction that in an age of individualism is provoked as a counter-reaction to this turn of events. The Catholic Church, as an institution, needs to be especially critical of itself in the light of this contemporary cultural problem.
Part One: Questions of Credibility
The message conveyed by the way the church as a public institution presents itself is well described by Thomas O’Loughlin, in his 2013 article, published in New Blackfriars, ‘The Credibility of the Catholic Church as Public Actor’. Before turning to this I can already note a common negative perception, exampled by a study of the “managerial and social engineering approach” of the previous vice-chancellor of the University of Kwazulu-Natal. Here the authors refer to the way Makgoba disturbingly cites military and religious figures as examples of good leadership, whereas, they say, “the authority structures and blind faith common to the armed forces and churches, mosques, synagogues and temples are anathema to universities” (Chetty and Merrett, The Struggle for the Soul of a South African University, 2014: 46). Given this, there would seem to be, at the very least, a credibility gap for Waacsa and other religious reform groups.
At the same time, as O’Loughlin comments, we should take this crisis of credibility “as an invitation to grow in our awareness of who we are and what we have to offer as the People of God”. He takes us through four elements in the credibility gap:
II. Mythic Fracture
III. Vectoral Accountability
I.Dissonance. Here the difference is between what-is-formally-taught and what-is-perceived-from-what-is-done. O’Loughlin takes the maleness of the priesthood as example. Canon Law says, Illi viri sacerdotes novi testament sunt, et in mysterio eucharistico officiunt. Those men are priests of the new testament, and officiate in the mystery of the eucharist. What’s wrong with this? Surely you need priestly orders to celebrate mass? But an outsider looks on, let’s say a Protestant, and notes the similarity here with the Levitical priesthood, only intact males being able to enter the sanctuary. No, we want to say, with Vatican II, the priest is simply representing the priesthood of all the faithful, a chosen race. But however much we object, what it looks like is: i) a cult of sacred persons, who through ordination have undergone “an ontological change” and so are radically different to ordinary believers; ii)a cult of purity where marriage is seen as making someone incapable of ordination; iii) a cult of deference that assumes a contact with the holy not granted to others. Whatever we say about the equal priesthood of all believers we still have ‘the clergy’ put over against ‘the laity”, the laos, the people, the rest of us. The church is structured like a pyramid. Priests know this. An example close to home is that of the new English version of the Missal. I quote from Thomas Plastow (2015): “Short of making an act of disobedience, individual priests and bishops can do little to reverse what has been done.” “The 2011 English Translation of the Roman Missal and the Curbing of Liturgical Inculturation.” Available at www.weareallchurch.co.za/ resources.) Plastow comments on this translation that it is “a victory for those whose primary interests are the preservation of Roman tradition and the centralization and uniformity of Catholic worship.” But whatever the merits of uniformity, there are other arguments, preferencing inculturation, and the whole issue should of course be subject to dialogue and debate. But this is undercut by the primacy given to centralization in the whole church life and its “personnel” – you can’t argue against centralization because arguing like that is to defy centralization.
Dissonance is damaging to our project as reformers in the church. A climate of mistrust and scepticism is the result. We get used to ‘Vatican-speak’: good ideas but contradicted in practice. You can think of your own examples. My great-grandfather, from the Eastern Cape, died in Europe in The Great War and has this on his gravestone: ‘Tell them we died for England and rest here content’. For England – not for peace, or justice. His South African daughter was 19 years old. Words versus reality. O’Loughlin takes the example of the parish priest, what he is described to be, and what in reality he functions as: people-management, dispute-resolution, plant maintenance, budgetary oversight, and so on. Dissonance.
II. Mythic Fracture. The myth is that the Roman Catholic Church inherits, in its leadership (“the hierarchy”) what has been passed on from the apostles of the founder of our religion. Those not part of this legally constituted institution are “separated brethren” or “schismatics”, or even “heretics” (as Pat Freesen was called). Vatican II says of course all people of good will have all the resources at their disposal for their eternal salvation. But the institutional practice “says” something different: Pat Freesen’s action in drawing on these resources of intelligence, wisdom, good will, is not celebrated or accepted in line with this idea but rather condemned. Ecumenism in the official version stretches further and further away from ecumenism at the breakfast table of every “mixed” family: which church should we go to this Sunday? The ‘Roman Catholic myth’ is, in every such discussion, completely discredited, in practical terms. The gap between myth of Catholic totality and lived reality (lived in the spirit of Jesus’ generosity!) continues to widen. Seminarians learn to travel in an increasingly distant planetary orbit.
If the “top people” are there by virtue of the supernatural workings of the divine plan, then belonging to the church means nothing less than finding your place in the pyramid: that is to say, at the bottom. Work in the parish means doing the flowers, or the readings; it could mean listening to theology, it doesn’t mean thinking about theology. No great enthusiasm is shown among clergy when a group is formed to discuss and promote the ideas of Vatican II!
But we are talking here about “blind faith” – or fundamentalism. As Catholics we are very aware, it is obvious to us, that there is no reasonable grounding for trusting in the idea of the perfect all-embracing book. We can point to the wealth of biblical scholarship that as they say “deconstructs” the biblical texts, bringing out, if we apply our minds, their real wealth of wisdom, now taking their place among other texts in our tradition and the traditions of others. But equally, historical scholarship applied to the early church can undo, if we pay attention to it, the myth of our unified apostolic origins – and builds up an appreciation of non-Roman Catholic insights into the faith, and also of the founding myths of other religions. A non-blind faith takes our Christian narrative as always in need of re-formulation as we grow in understanding through the Spirit working in us, and as changing culture forces a re-expression of the narrative if it is to be seen as plausible.
The 1965 Minority Report of Paul VI’s Birth Control Commission argued on the basis of this myth that the teaching on birth control must be true: “it is true because the Catholic Church, instituted by Christ,… could not have so wrongly erred during all those centuries of its history.” One can think here, in contrast, of the work someone like Bartolomeo de las Casas needed to do to convince the church to change its attitude to slavery.
III. Vectoral accountability. To whom are clergy (bishops, priests) accountable? This question has come to the fore with the revelations of sexual abuse and the inability of ‘managers’ in the organization to see how they were transgressing rules of natural justice. Accountability, in the myth bolstered by the structure, is to the top (compare the idea that business managers are obliged not to the employees in the firm but to their owners, the shareholders). “Hierarchy is the notion that holiness, grace in western terms, power, authority, authorization, and authentication flows from ‘the higher’ to ‘the lower’.” Authentication comes through Christ’s vicar: the bishop of Rome! Yet how recent encyclicals – Laborem Exercens is an example – have, in the case of business organisations, raged against putting profit (for the shareholders) above care of the workers! “Let us imagine a large gathering of Catholics who cannot find a priest yet want to fulfil their Sunday obligation: can they authorise one of the men in their group to preside over their Eucharistic meal? No – absolutely not – for that authority must come from one who has it, and it cannot arise from below no matter how great the need.” And O’Loughlin points to one of the reasons behind this idea: for that would mean, in catholic eyes, many non-Catholic ministers would have valid orders! And we can’t have that! So institution triumphs over ideas, Vatican II ideas.
So power flows downwards from the top, and conversely, accountability is to the one above you. Not to the people, or to the child, put in your care. Again, O’Loughlin’s example is pertinent: It is the duty of the bishop to regulate the celebration of the Eucharist in his diocese. Any male Christian with the ability to preside can be ordained. Today, unlike in the past, acquiring the necessary knowledge and competence is very often quite feasible, and in a short time. So any bishop who sees himself as serving the needs of the communities of his diocese will have no shortage of presbyters as he will, like Paul on his way from Lystra to Antioch appointing presbyters in every church (Acts 14: 21-3) have ordained the required number in each community. Ah! But it’s not so simple! Such an action would not be authorized!
Note the double-speak at work here. The priest, or bishop, is supposed to “serve the people”. But how? The upwards-accountability model is by no means historically authenticated. Yet any proposed change in the model might be seen within the model’s own myth, as a betrayal of the very authority from which their identity is given!
IV.Transparency. When the source of authority of the leader comes from those being governed, they are entitled to see how that authority is being exercised, more, it is their duty to do so. The actions of leadership should be transparent. Transparency has become a key value in contemporary democratic culture. It seems to be a crucial factor in good governance, in leadership that is not abused. To act non-transparently is to act unethically.
But on the upwards-accountability model of governance transparency will never be thought of as a key value. We have then to ask whether the upwards-accountability model has any right to be called ethical. If indeed grace builds on nature, and human nature is fulfilled through our sociability, then the church is ethically required to change its model of governance. For the truth that is preached is not primarily a set of propositions but a truth of life. The implications for church practice of Vatican II’s embracing of the turn to participation as a founding human value have yet to be absorbed. The social teaching of the contemporary church shows the problem is well understood; the thing is to apply it to itself.
* * *
FAMILY SYNOD 2015: Loss or Gain?
Synod 2015 had a unique preparation, an earlier Extraordinary Synod on the same topic. We remember the heady days when the Interim Report of the 2014 Synod was released (Relatio post disceptationem) with its freshness and openness, taking much of the press and many Catholics by surprise. This enthusiasm was somewhat dampened by the final report of that Extraordinary Synod (Final Relatio) with its more muted conclusions.
Cardinal Kasper proposed that the best preparation for the 2015 Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops would be for parishes, dioceses and organizations to look at (and discuss) 4 issues which would help the work of the 2015 Synod:
i) Spirituality of sexuality.
ii) Pastoral spirituality.
iii) Simplification of the canonical procedures surrounding marriage.
iv) Discussion of “hot-button” topics.
Pope Francis himself dealt with canonical procedures in Mitis Judex/ Gentle Judge (2015). Discussion of “hot button” topics continued apace with the danger of obscuring the various theologies of marriage and family life (the wider background and context). I am not aware of any significant progress in shaping a contemporary language for sexuality to fill the void left by the collapse of the canonical template (Gallagher R. “A Church silence in sexual moral discourse?” in An Irish Reader in Moral theology Vol. 1 pp 26-35).
Pope Francis prepared the Church for the 2015 Synod by announcing the Year of Mercy which would begin almost immediately after the close of the Synod. This provided a pastoral context in which the Synod would pray, deliberate and move the Church forward. His vision of Jesus Christ as the face of the Father’s Mercy (Misericordiae Vultus) captured the spiritual imagination of so many people that one could only look forward in hope to the Synod as itself an experience of Mercy.
THE SYNOD ITSELF
Many (including Archbishop Brislin) have commented favourably on the changes Francis introduced into the methodology of the Synod: a shift from the interminable public presentations to plenty of focussed work in small groups (circuli minores) “Ultimately this led to a consensus on the final document presented to the Pope” (+Brislin’s Argus article). This methodology also allowed sharp divisions to emerge, e.g. Bishop Johan Bonny’s claim that Cardinal Sarah had prevented him from raising the issue of pastoral care of gay Catholics.
The Superior General of the Redemptorists (Fr Michael Brehl) who was a voting member of the Synod, claims that that the press generally didn’t do a good job of getting the spirit of the small group discussions. He was fascinated to see how such groups began and ended. At the beginning, there was a strong division between those with a predetermined agenda for change as opposed to a much smaller group dead-set against any change at all. By the end of the Synod both groups had compromised sufficiently to pass every paragraph with a two-third majority in order to give the Pope the freedom to move forward on sensitive issues.
The final document of the Synod is presented in three parts:
Listening God’s Plan Mission of the Family
1. THE CHURCH LISTENING TO THE FAMILY
Covering 34 paragraphs, this section is divided into 4 chapters:
* Socio-economic considerations
Laying the groundwork for presenting the message of the Synod, the first chapter deals with the widely accepted perception that the institution of the family in the Church and in contemporary society is in crisis. While admitting the fragility of the family, these opening remarks are not so doom-laden as to preclude comments on the beauty of the family (7). There is a conscious effort to balance “joys and hopes, sorrows and anxieties” of modern families and to so read the signs of times through the lens of faith that the good news of the family (Gospel of the Family) can be proclaimed with joy.
In dealing with the socio-economic context facing many families today, there is a recognition that many of the difficulties which confront families come from outside the family: lack of employment, public corruption, dramatic demographic changes, systemic violence. Listening to families speaking about the loneliness -even within families- and the sense of powerlessness in front of so many problems, is very sobering for the bishops.
In terms of inclusivity, the document is at pains to mention as many role players as possible, a risky business in terms of who is “in” and who is “out”.
Significantly, when mention is made of widowhood, is the (almost off the cuff) remark that the ordo viduarum might be reinstated in the present-day.
A refreshing conclusion to this section on LISTENING is the treatment of affectivity in family life. There is recognition of the significance of emotional intelligence: “To take care of oneself, to know one’s self interiorly, to live better in line with one’s emotions and feelings and to seek quality in emotional relationships requires opening oneself to the gift of loving others and the desire to build a creative, empowering and sound reciprocity as that in families”(30).
Why is the Church not listening to the “Eastern lung” and its theology of marriage and its pastoral praxis concerning failed marriages? Why not include Orthodox bishops and theologians as members of the Synod, thereby learning the meaning and practice of synodality as well as discerning another valid approach to the theory and pastoral praxis of marriage and family life?
Disunity in the Church is always a loss and in the various theologies of marriage and family life, the loss of the Eastern voice is a serious disadvantage.
2.THE FAMILY IN GOD’S PLAN
Paragraphs 35-55 are devoted to an overview of the role of the Family in God’s plan. First, there is an introductory chapter on the Family in Salvation History, then a chapter on the Family in the Magisterium of the Church, a chapter on the Christian Teaching on the family and finally a chapter on the ecclesial fullness of the family.
The document tries to trace the development of marriage and family life from a creation perspective -what is called “natural marriage”, based on the order of creation. The evolution of marriage through the model of covenant love (in the OT) leads eventually to the NT sacrament of matrimony in which the image of God, Father, Son and Spirit is seen. “In the human family, gathered by Christ, the ‘image and likeness’ of the Holy Trinity is now visible, a mystery from which flows all true love”. (38) Here we are touching on the heart of the “Gospel of the Family”: “The covenant of love and fidelity, lived by the holy Family of Nazareth, illuminates the principle which gives form to every household, and enables it better to face the vicissitudes of life and history” (38).
This section -on the family in Salvation history- is steeped in the Scriptures and in the rich spiritual tradition of the Church. Meriting very little attention from the journalists, it warrants careful and prayerful pondering for families and for those ministering in any family context. It is interesting that in the section on the Magisterium, Benedict XVI is quoted as using a similar approach to the theology of Christian marriage: “marriage based on exclusive and definitive love becomes the icon of the relationship between God and his people and vice versa. God’s way of loving becomes the measure of human love” (DCE 11).
In the third chapter in this section on The Christian Teaching on the family we find, in addition to the well rehearsed teaching on the sacramentality of Christian marriage a significant section on the Truth and Beauty of the Family.
Having set out a vision of Christian marriage and family life the Document recognises that families which incarnate such a vision makecredible the beauty of an indissoluble, ever faithful marriage. But even if such a vision is not fully possible, great respect and joy accompany any little steps towards the goal: “A small step, in the midst of great human limitations, can be more pleasing to God than a life which appears outwardly in order but moves through the day without confronting great difficulties” (51). In ministering to families in difficulties we are reminded: “The degree of responsibility is not equal in all cases and factors may exist which limit the ability to make a decision”(51).
By “Ecclesial fullness” seems to be meant that “the Church is good for the family and the family is good for the Church”. We have long been familiar with the idea that the family is a ‘domestic Church’. Pope Paul VI suggested (EN 71) that there should be found in every Christian family the various aspects of the entire Church.
Whenever the ideal of the Gospel of the Family is set out , there is always also pastoral concern for those hurt by marriage and family, those whose marriages have broken down, those in situations which we used to called “irregular”. Referring to those faithful who are living together, who are only married civilly and to those who are divorced and remarried we read “the Church turns with love to those who participate in her life in an imperfect manner: she seeks the grace of conversion for them, she encourages them to do good, to lovingly take care of each other and to serve the community in which they live and work” (53).
Such a public acknowledgement is preparing the way for a new experience of Mercy, the core of Revelation (55).
3. THE MISSION OF THE FAMILY
This final and longest part of the Synod Document opens with a plea for a new language: “Today more than ever, transmitting the faith requires a language which is able to reach everyone, especially young people, so as to communicate the beauty and love in the family and make people understand the meaning of terms such as self-giving, conjugal love, fidelity, fruitfulness and procreation”. This echoes numerous pleas made during the Synod for a new language for theology. The comparison was made (by Archbishop Mark Coleridge) with Vatican 2 as a “language event”: not a question of new doctrine but a new way of expressing the treasures we have.
Dealing with the formation of the family, I would highlight three points:a) The move from the beauty of marriage and the family to the beauty of sexuality in love (58). The document interestingly adds that the family is not the only forum for the formation of young people into the beauty of sexuality. the phrase “spirituality of sexuality” is not used but elements of such a spirituality are present.
b) The emphasis not only on pre-marriage instruction but on accompaniment in the initial years of marriage and family life. “The parish is the place where experienced couples may be made available to the younger ones, possibly in conjunction with associations, ecclesial movements and new communities” (60).
c) The inclusion of the notion of Family Spiritual Direction as parish ministry.
In the Chapter on Generativity, the single most significant gain is the role of Conscience. Whereas in the earlier Synod the words “responsible parenthood” and “conscience” were not mentioned, now they are and are mentioned in conjunction with one another. Quoting Gaudium et Spes (16) which recognises conscience as the most secret core and sanctuary of a person, where each one is alone with God, the Synod document concludes “The more the couple tries to listen to their conscience to God and to his commandments, and are accompanied spiritually, the more their decision will be intimately free from a subjective arbitrariness and the adaption to people’s conduct where they live” (63). We have come a considerable way from the language of “intrinsically evil” without reneging on the gospel of life.
The third chapter of this third section (The Family and pastoral accompaniment) contains all the “hot-button” issues. Pope Francis himself tried to diffuse some of the press speculation around these topics [Francis made a personal intervention on Oct 6th to the effect that the members of the Synod were not to act as if the only question that mattered was the pastoral care of the divorced and civilly remarried Catholics].
* Homosexuality: “To families with homosexual members, the Church reiterates that every person, regardless of sexual orientation, ought to be respected in his/her dignity and received with respect, while carefully avoiding every sign of unjust discrimination” (76). Compare that statement with the statement contained in the interim report of the 2014 Synod: “Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer the Christian community: are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities?…….it has to be noted that there are cases in which mutual aid to he point of sacrifice constitutes a precious support in the life of partners” (50-52).
For some (e.g. James Alison, Tablet 7 Nov 2015) the reticence of the bishops to pronounce on the topic of homosexuality is a good sign: they are learning not to rush in with ill considered or incomplete utterances. By stepping back and reflecting there can be an opening to “ask for help in understanding reality as it unfolds so as to be better signs of a living doctrine which is by its nature pastoral”. Others (Mark Brodrick) find this optimism “deeply implausible” because: i) current sexual theology is not fit for purpose, ii) authority in the Church cannot admit to grave error and iii) there are too many churchmen with vested interests in stifling debate.
Fr Brehl commenting on the issue of homosexuality (and same-sex marriage) said that the Synod refrained from the language of condemnation, being content to notice that “the Church’s teaching is well known”. Rather, a deliberate choice was made to focus on a positive statement about ministry to homosexuals within the context of family life.
To come at last the question of the divorced and civilly remarried Catholics. Under the heading “Discernment and Integration” there are three paragraphs dealing with this question in detail, 84,85 and 86. These paragraphs got the highest number of no votes of all 94 paragraphs even though they all obtained the necessary two-thirds (a politician’s dream!).
84. The principle underlying these sensitive sentences is “The logic of integration is the key to their pastoral care”. A critical sentence is “Their participation (in the life of the Church) can be expressed in different ecclesial services which necessarily requires discerning which of the various forms of exclusion, currently practice in the liturgical, pastoral, educational and institutional framework, can be surpassed”.
This was a sentence which 187 Synodal members approved. It is a sentence which calls for more discernment, but it is sentence which opens a door to a merciful pastoral solution providing (as the Tablet said) “room for Manoeuvre”.
85. Paragraph 85 bases itself on St John Paul’s axiom that “Pastors must know that , for the sake of truth, they are obliged to exercise careful discernment of situations”. Anyone can see the difference between those who tried to save their marriage, who were unjustly abandoned and those who through their own grave fault destroyed a valid marriage. Pastors should also be aware that in some circumstances “imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified” (CCC 1735). These pastoral principles help to keep open the door to a pastoral solution without mention of “the way of penitence”.
This paragraph squeezed in by one vote. That it got the required two-thirds is a tribute to those who formulated a text which 178 Synodal members could accept.
86. This paragraph which garnered 190 votes focuses on “the internal forum”: “Conversation with the priest, in the internal forum, contributes to the formation of a correct judgment on what hinders the possibility of a fuller participation in the life of the Church and Church practice which can foster it and make it grow”. Remaining faithful to the Gospel demands of truth and charity are shown by “humility, discretion and love for the Church and her teaching, in a sincere search for God’s will and a desire to make a more perfect response to it”.
This way of presenting the internal forum is a reworking of “the Church’s approved practice in the internal forum”, according to Bishop Alberto Semeraro, and can claim the explicit approval of Blessed Paul VI (21 March 1975).
The final chapter of the Document is entitled The family and Evangelization and is mostly devoted to family spirituality, family-to family ministry and the openness of the family to mission.
It would be unfortunate to move on to the reception of the Synod without noticing Pope Francis’ immediate reaction at the end of the Synod. In his final discourse at the close of the Synod he gave very clear indications of what the synod was about and what it was not about.
* It was not about settling all issues about marriage and family
* It was about seeing everything in the light of the Gospel.
But here are some of his trenchant remarks:* “we must not fall into a facile repetition of what is obvious or has already been said”(cf. speech of Rapporteur-General of the Synod).
* “we are not to bury our heads in the sand”.
* “the gospel continues to be a vital source of eternal newness against all those who would indoctrinate it in dead stones to be hurled at others”;
* “it was also about laying bare the closed hearts which frequently hide even behind the Church’s teachings or good intentions in order to sit in the chair of Moses and judge, sometime with superiority and superficiality, difficult and wounded families”;
* “we must rise above conspiracy theories and blinkered viewpoints”;
* “(our theology) at times encrusted in a language which is archaic or simply incomprehensible”.
* “in the course of this Synod, the different opinions which were freely expressed – and at time, unfortunately, not in entirely well-meaning ways- certainly led to a rich and lively dialogue; they offered a vivid image of a Church which does not simply ‘rubber stamp’, but draws from the sources of her faith living waters to refresh parched hearts”.
These are only some of the barbed comments which prompted a suggestion that Francis was disappointed at the closed approach of many of the Bishops.
This is reflected in some of the comments of Vatican commentators. Robert Mickens sees the Synods of 2014 and 2015 as a two-pronged process: the first was to help the bishops “take the pulse” of the Catholic people whereas in the second Synod the Pope was able to “take the pulse” of the bishops : “The Pope has gotten to know the bishops much better and is now in a stronger position to distinguish those who are on board with his vision of renewing and reforming the Church from those who are not” (NCR Oct 26th 2015).
In the wake of Vatican 2, the Church has learned the significance of the question of Reception. The Ecumenical Councils have to be Received by the local churches; this is a process which eventually involves the whole Church. It can involve formal decisions on the part of Church authorities (and it can be positive or negative!). There is no question of such formal reception of a Synodal document such as we have been discussing. It is a stage in a process and the next step is a formal intervention by the Pope in the light of the experience of the Synod. This could take 3 forms: an Apostolic Exhortation, an Encyclical, or the issuing of the Synod Document under his own name (as Paul the V1 did on one occasion).
However we can reflect on a few popular aspects and gains of the informal reception of the Synod so far.
i) Although the topic of marriage and family is clearly of prime importance in the lives of Christians, many see the experience of the two Synods as a retrieving of the Vatican 2 concept of collegiality. Synodality and Collegiality are the real winners -not the rigorists and not the laxists (Schonborn).
ii) Situating the opening of the Year of Mercy so close to the closing of the Synod, Pope Francis is signalling the context in which to read the Synod: this is the time of Mercy; Jesus is the Face of the Father’s mercy. Mercy sans frontiers is the time of Francis’ papacy -and therefore of both Synods.
iii) Gospel truth is always merciful: the Synod breathes “pastoral benignity” ( St Alphonsus). A conversation has begun, ways forward have been explored, a new language is in the making, pastoral flexibility is imaginative and the pastoral dialogue will continue. (S. Majorano: Il Sinodo 2015 e la proposta alfonsiana).
iv) “A snapshot of a Church in transition” (Tablet 31.10.15). A generally positive reading of the two Synods does not prevent us from improving on the process: to learn from the Orthodox who have been living synodality/collegiality (with strengths and weaknesses); to deploy more theologians (and church historians) in the process.
v) Both Synods have been serious attempts by the Church to proclaim the Gospel of the Family and to do so in a compassionate and attractive way. Archbishop Brislin’s (Argus) summary is fair and worth remembering: Learning to Listen, Rediscovering Beauty, the importance of Discernment, and Accompaniment.
Loss or gain? What do you think?
Sean Wales C.Ss.R.
Perspectives opened by Pope Francis for the evolution of the Catholic Church and reforms to meet the challenges of our evolving 21st century world
Dr Nontando Hadebe (email@example.com )
It is a great honour for me to be asked to present my paper at this historical event initiated by Council 50 under the theme “Towards a Church inspired by the gospel, for the world.” I would like to thank the organizers, Fr Francois Becker and his team for all they have done to make this event possible by bringing us together from different parts of the world. I am also privileged to be part of this group of activists within the Catholic church seeking both internal and external change and transformation. The internal change refers to the structures of the Church and the external change refers to structures in the world – the two need to happen for the gospel to respond to the challenges of our evolving 21st Century world. I have come to know many of you through the excellent papers and contributions that you have made. Reading through these, I was struck by three things. Firstly the consensus on the need for structural change within the Church based on concrete context-specific experiences in each region. An extraordinary sign of
the coming together of the contextual and global! The demand for reform is not a textbook assessment but emerges from real life experience of structural oppression in the church! The second point is that this shared sense that reform of ecclesial structures must happen for the church to fulfil her mandate inspired by the Gospel and for the world represents ‘the sense of the faithful’ sensus fidelium. History shows the critical role of the sensus fidelium in times when the Church was in danger of losing the fundamentals of faith and mission. Vatican II set the Church on a different path that opened the redefined the church both structurally and in relation to the world. These two are related – only a radically transformed church could radically transform the world. The definition of the Church as the ‘people of God’ and the call for equal participation of the laity in the priesthood of Christ represents an inclusive participatory model that allows the Church through all her members to bring the liberating message of the gospel to the world. This call for reform of the structures is central to Pope Francis who in his latest address to the Italian bishops makes change mandatory for the survival of the Church. Hence the sensus fidelium for structural reform expressed in the theme of Council 50 as well as in your papers is echoed by Pope Francis. Of equal importance is that the sensus fidelium expressed by this group is not theory but actual experiences of oppression by laity and specific groups such as women, LGTBIQ and ethnic minorities. The injustice in the Church that is championing human rights is a heresy. Lastly this gathering is praxis orientated. I have noted with excitement from your papers the practical reforms suggested that are necessary for the Church to fulfil her mission in the world as defined by Jesus in the gospels, developed further by Vatican II and recently by Pope Francis. The perspectives of Pope Francis particularly his vision of the Church as a field hospital feature prominently in the contributions that I have read. I concur with practical suggestions from all the regions and what impressed me is the common vision that emerges from this gathering.
What is interesting for me is that the contributions from the regions which were made independant of each are mysteriously weaved into my paper. The Spirit is clearly at work. I will start my paper with a brief discussion on the shared vision of Pope John XXIII and Pope Francis which is rooted in the liberating ministry of Jesus. This will form the background context of this
paper. Then I will move on to the theological foundation for reform which will focus on three aspects: the method of contextual theology; interconnectedness using Trinitarian theology and applying it to seven themes. I appropriate the symbol of the Trinity as a central focus of my paper because it captures one of the perspectives of Pope Francis namely the interconnectedness of everything. I will propose that the concept of interconnectedness is best described in the symbol of the Trinity as it presents to us core values that are central to the reform of the church that is inspired by the gospel and for the world. These values are equality, mutuality, reciprocity, unity that does not dissolve difference and orientation towards justice and liberation. Based on these values I will propose seven themes on interconnectedness that can contribute to the evolution of the Catholic church and reforms that can help us respond to the our mission of Council 50 – “Towards a Church, inspired by the gospel, for the world”. I will conclude with a call to recognize this time as a kairos moment for the church an opportune time to act decisive and will cite from the Kairos Document from South Africa which was written in the context of oppression but focused on the theologies in the churches that were operating in response to the context.
2. Background context: Pope John XXIII, Pope Frances and Jesus
This section will begin with three quotations: two from Pope John XXIII (1881-1963) taken from his opening speech at Vatican II Council and last words before he died and one from Pope Francis from Laudato Si :
“..it is necessary that the Church should never depart from the sacred treasure of the truth inherited from the fathers. But at the same time, she must ever look to the present, to the new conditions and new forms of life in the modern world, which have opened new avenues to the Catholic apostolate…’
‘The substance of the ancient doctrine of the Deposit of Faith is one thing, but the way in which it is presented is another.’
‘… may you who are present respond to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit so that the work of all will correspond most exactly to the expectations and needs of the many people of the modern world1. insert following reference
The second quotation:
Today more than ever, we are called to serve mankind as such, and not merely Catholics; to defend above all and everywhere, the rights of the human person and not merely those of the Catholic Church…’
‘It is not that the Gospel has changed: it is that we have begun to understand it better… the moment has come to discern the signs of the times, to seize the opportunity and to look far ahead
(Ref. Vatican archive, quoted on cover of John XXIII, Pope of the Council, Peter Hebblethwaite, Geoffrey Chapman 1984)2.
The last quotation is from Pope Francis from Laudato Si:
We are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental. Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature (139)
The common thread that runs through the vision and passion of the two Popes is a commitment to justice as a critical application of the unchanging teachings of the Catholic Church. Both Popes emphasize violations of human rights as one of the pressing challenges of our times and Pope Francis gives concrete manifestations of such violations as poverty, exclusion and exploitation of nature. The basis of their concern for human welfare lies in the belief that all of humanity without exception is made in the image of God and that certain conditions need to be met for persons to live a life that embodies their dignity. This ‘dignity package’ or what constitutes material expressions of dignity is outlined in Gaudium et Spes as follows,
…to have ready access to all that is necessary for living a genuinely human life: for example, food, clothing, housing, the right freely to choose their state of life and set up a family, the right to education, work, to their good name, to respect, to proper knowledge, the right to act according to the dictates of conscience and to safeguard their privacy, and rightful freedom, including freedom of religion
Therefore when people are deprived of any item listed in the dignity package, the mission of the Church is to respond. It is precisely in response to these violations that the Church takes on her prophetic role as the guardian, protector and sustainer of life. This reverence for life becomes a guiding principle for theologies and actions of the Church. Such an ethos resonates with African religious and cultural understandings of life as holistic, interconnected, communal and inclusive of all forms of life. Similarly human rights and constitutions affirm a commitment to life through legal mechanisms that protect, guard and sustain life and are critical in challenging oppressive cultural and religious practices. Culture according to African feminist theologian Musimbi Kanyoro is a double edged sword that is both liberating and oppressive to women: “Culture is a double-edged sword. In some instances, culture is like the creed for the community identity. In other instances, culture is the main justification for difference, oppression and injustice” (2002:13). She also argues that all aspects of African women’s lives are controlled by culture and women are silent on oppressive aspects of their culture such as genital mutilation and polygamy. So the first step for theologians is to create a safe space for women to speak and then to challenge these oppressive practices from culture without ignoring the life-giving aspects of culture such as ubuntu that is the interconnectedness of
persons and the fostering of values such as compassion, solidarity, generousity for the common good.
Similarly Christianity as noted by African and global feminist theologians is also a double-edged sword that oppresses and liberates. According to Phiri an African women theologian, African women theologians share the same commitment as their global partners as described in the following quotation, African women’s theologies are a critical, academic study of the causes of women oppression; particularly a struggle against societal, cultural and religious patriarchy. They are committed to the eradication of all forms of oppression against women through a critique of the social and religious dimensions both in African culture and Christianity (2004:156)
However, there is a resistance in culture and within the Church in confronting oppression within the church. For example there are fears that confronting women’s issues may lead to areas that the Church does not want to face like the ordination of women or confronting oppressive cultural norms or worst still confronted gender ideology which has been demonized by the Church. Similarly there is fear related to confronting violations of rights of LGTBIQ because it may be interpreted as supporting their rights to express their sexuality or supporting same sex marriage. These lurking fears prevent the global Church and particularly in Africa from confronting violations that infringe on the rights and lives of LGTBIQ. This also applied to fears that showing compassion and extending pastoral ministry to divorced/separated/remarried Christians will be interpreted as going against the teaching of the church with regards to indissolubility of marriage. Fear is driving force preventing liberating theologies from taking root in the Church. Similarly the Church uses theologies to create fear in these oppressed groups. Thus the capacity of the Church to fulfil her mandate as sustainer, guardian and protector of life is compromised and as a result members of these groups continue to suffer exploitation without recourse from the Church. That people should die, be excluded, face humiliation in the name of ‘preservation of the teaching of the Church’ is not tenable and violates the fundamentals of the gospel as well as contradicts multiple teachings including Social Teaching of the church that affirms the human dignity of all persons without exception, solidarity and commitment to justice.
There is no selective dignity – thus the Church cannot pick and choose who to liberate because all of humanity is made in the image of God. Thus there is need to change the structures in the Church that militate against inclusion and liberation. These oppressions are sustained and legitimized by structures in the church that resist change and one of these is clericalism. Pope Francis has consistently condemned clericalism and his most clear call for reform came from his address of Italian bishops.
Here are some quotations from that speech taken from an article from the National Catholic Reporter by Joshua McElwee:
“We are not living an era of change but a change of era.”
“Before the problems of the church it is not useful to search for solutions in conservatism or fundamentalism, in the restoration of obsolete conduct and forms that no longer have the capacity of being significant culturally,”
“Christian doctrine is not a closed system incapable of generating questions, doubts, interrogatives — but is alive, knows being unsettled, enlivened,” said the pope. “It has a face that is not rigid, it has a body that moves and grows, it has a soft flesh: it is called Jesus Christ.”
The reform of the church then, and the church is semper reformanda … does not end in the umpteenth plan to change structures,” he continued. “It means instead grafting yourself to and rooting yourself in Christ, leaving yourself to be guided by the Spirit — so that all will be possible with genius and creativity.”
Assume always the Spirit of the great explorers, that on the sea were passionate for navigation in open waters and were not frightened by borders and of storms,” the pontiff told the Italians. “May it be a free church and open to the challenges of the present, never in defense for fear of losing something.”
The face of Jesus is similar to that of so many of our humiliated brothers, made slaves, emptied,” he said. “God had assumed their face. And that face looks to us.”If we do not lower ourselves we will not see his face,” said Francis. “We will not see anything of his fullness if we do not accept that God has emptied God’s self.”
These perspectives by Pope Francis open up many avenues for us to explore. In the general view of the ‘humiliated brothers’ we can take this further to include all those in the margins of the Church including laity, women, ethnic groups, people with disabilities, LGTBIQ and youth.
This inclusiveness of marginalized groups and a message of liberation as well as call to reform ecclesial structures is reflected in the ministry of Jesus right at the beginning of his ministry which remained consistent until his death. As the beginning of his ministry Jesus said, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour (Luke 4:18-19).
None of those who heard these words anticipated the dramatic transformation that Jesus would bring into his faith community which was Judaism and the world! Filled with the Spirit Jesus transformed and reformed every aspect of the religion of his community; he-interpreted the Hebrew bible through the ethos of love, mercy, inclusivity, liberation, wholeness, justice for all; broke the rules that separated people by associating with marginalized communities described as ‘sinners’ and ‘unclean- lepers, sex workers, tax collectors; he spent time in spiritual and ethical formation of his followers – teaching profound truth through images, parables that were accessible to the poor and encouraged them to action through small deeds that came to represent the entry point of the kingdom of God – mustard seed, yeast, light and salt. His confrontations and sternest challenges were with religious authorities. They were in constant conflict over intricacies of the law such as the Sabbath and purity laws. In these instances he repeatedly pointed out to them the priority of human life over law: Then Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath (Matt 2:27). He was uncompromising in his references to them and their deeds, demanding that they change and accusing them of enslaving communities and corruption! The rhetoric is strong (Luke 11:37-54) But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint, and rue and hers of all kinds and neglect justice and the love of God; it is these you ought to have practised, without neglecting the others. (Luke 11:42)
Woe to you! for you build the tombs of the prophets whom your ancestors killed. So you are witnesses and approve of the deeds of your ancestors; for they killed them and you build their tombs.
The result as we know was that Jesus became a threat to the religious hierarchy and they instigated his crucifixion which instead of silencing him did the opposite – it began a revolution that continues till this day. The work of the Spirit is unstoppable.
3. Theological resources for Reform : Contextual Theology, Trinitarian Theology and Seven ThemesThis section will discuss these three theological resources for reform starting with contextual theologies.
3.1. Contextual Theology
The discussion on contextual theology will use Stephen Bevans’ distinction between classical and contextual theologies. According to Bevans, classical theology is, […] conceived theology as a kind of objective science of faith. It was understood as a reflection in faith on the two loci theologici (theological sources) of scripture and tradition, the content of which has not and never will be changed, and is above culture and historically conditioned expression.
Based on this description, classical theology is acontextual and ahistorical because its sources are scripture and tradition and excludes context. Dunn gives two examples of classical theologies as Biblicists and Doctrinalists. For Biblicists all theology is biblical theology and the role of theology is to “explain, defend and disseminate what is in scripture” (1998:23). The result is biblical fundamentalism where “the bible is perceived as the sole legitimate source of theology and is interpreted literally and inerrantly” (ibid). For example biblical texts referring to women’s roles in marriage such as submission to their husbands (Ephesians 5:22) are applied literally even in the context of abuse and unfaithfulness. An uncritical application of the text in the context of HIV led to high rates of infection among married women, many of whom felt that it was ‘God’s will’ for them to submit to their husbands and not question their unfaithfulness and as a result many were infected and died leaving their children to fend for themselves
Similarly doctrinalists define the task of theology as interpretation, defence and dissemination of doctrine resulting in doctrinal fundamentalism. These methodologies uncritically “objectify scripture, tradition, doctrine and teachings of churches” and are orientated towards the past and not present (:27). The result is an orientation towards the past and not present. Teachings and doctrines are applied without reference to context and as seen in the example of high rates of HIV infection amongst married women, at the cost of many women’s lives and surviving children who face difficult future without parents.
In contrast contextual theology according to Bevans,
recognizes another locus theologicus: recent human experience. Theology that is contextual realizes that culture, history, contemporary thought forms, and so forth are to be considered, along with scripture and tradition, as valid sources for theological expression”.
The inclusion of human experience as a source for theological reflection differentiates contextual from classical theologies. Gula further contrasts these two methods through the lens of history. Classicist view history as deductive, based on a positivist assumption that the world is a ‘finished product’ from which universal principles are derived that are changeless, eternal and applicable to all contexts (1999:32) . In contrast contextual theology is characterized by “historical consciousness” and is inductive as it starts with experiences and derives principles based on the assumption that the world is “dynamic and evolving through historical development” (:32). Consequently there are no definitive conclusions which allows “for incompleteness, possible error, open to revision; conclusions [which] are as accurate as evidence will allow” (:31,32). Contextual theology is dynamic because it connects tradition and scripture to context so that it is relevant and liberating.
3.2 Trinitarian Theology
Although the word Trinity does not appear in the Bible, it was first introduced by Tertullian to describe the Christian belief that God is one and exists in Three Persons. It took over three centuries of debate to finally produce a theology of the Trinity that became the standard formulation in the Nicene-Constantinople Creed in 4th Century. In stating that God is one and is also Three equal persons is a profound mystery. I will not go into the details but focus rather on the relationality within the Triune God that allows for difference to co-exist with equality in oneness that does not dissolve the difference and yet creates an interdependance that is the basis of the communion. The intra-Trinitarian relationships also referred to as the immanent Trinity are reflected in the actions of the Trinity in salvation history referred to as the economic Trinity. The term perichoresis is used to define the profound interconnedness in the Trinity that produces a oneness among equals that does not dissolve difference. According to the Catholic dictionary perichoresis
The penetration and indwelling of the three divine persons reciprocally in one another. In the Greek conception of the Trinity there is an emphasis on the mutual penetration of the three persons, thus bringing out the unity of the divine essence. In the Latin idea called circumincession the stress is more on the internal processions of the three divine persons. In both traditions, however, the fundamental basis of the Trinitarian perichoresis is the one essence of the three persons in God (Catholic Dictionary)
Liberation and feminist scholars in particular have appropriated the relationality of interconnectedness in the Trinity as a liberating paradigm for all relationships. Two quotations from Leonardo Boff and Ann Carr describe the liberating ethos of Trinitarian relationships.
Boff describes a church modelled after the Trinity as follows: Such a church, inspired by the communion of the Trinity would be characterized by a more equitable sharing of sacred power, by dialogue, by openness to all the charisma granted to the members of the community, by the disappearance of all types of discrimination especially those originating in patriarchalism and machismo, by its permanent search for a consensus to be built upon through the organized participation of all its members (1998:23).
Similarly, Carr describes the interconnected relationality as embodying qualities that are essential for liberating ethos.
The mystery of God as Trinity, as final and perfect sociality, embodies those qualities of mutuality, reciprocity, cooperation, unity, peace in genuine diversity that are feminist ideals and goals derived from the inclusivity of the gospel message. The final symbol of the God as Trinity thus provides women with an image and concept of God that entails qualities that make God truly worthy of imitation, worthy of the call to radical discipleship that is inherent in Jesus’ message (1990:156-7).
Thus the model of the symbol of the Trinity forms the basis for understanding the use of interconnectedness in the seven themes that will be discussed in the next section. These are the interconnectedness of: heaven and earth; laity and hierarchy; persons; teachings of the Church; all rooms in the home. conscience and community and interconnectedness of all of life.
6. The Seven themes of ‘interconnectedness’
The format for each theme will be a brief theological explanation followed by practical application.
6.1. Interconnectedness of heaven and earth
a. Theological basis The connection of heaven to earth starts from creation, extends to salvation history, the incarnation of Jesus and will culminate in the eschaton. God through revelation speaks in the language and context of humanity. One of the Vatican II documents Dei Verbum describes revelation as rooted in God’s relationship with the world and a desire by God to form relationships with humanity.
Through this revelation, therefore, the invisible God (see Col. 1;15, 1 Tim. 1:17) out of the abundance of His love speaks to men as friends (see Ex. 33:11; John 15:14-15) and lives among them (see Bar. 3:38), so that He may invite and take them into fellowship with Himself. This plan of revelation is realized by deeds and words having an inner unity: the deeds wrought by God in the history of salvation manifest and confirm the teaching and realities signified by the words, while the words proclaim the deeds and clarify the mystery contained in them (DV 2)
Jesus expressed this unity between heaven and earth when he said in the ‘our father’ prayer “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven’ and that God ‘loves the world’.
Thus as Vatican 2 and Pope Francis exhort us – it is in this world that our faith, traditions are to be applied and embodied. The Church mediates the will of God not her own programs. Since the Church is the ‘people of God’ the entire assembly of believers, the baptized are called to be agents of God’s revelation in concrete realities of their lives and that of their communities.
This is not a monologue but a dialogue, a reciprocity, interdependence because the world offers not just challenges to be confronted but wisdom from science, social sciences, arts, leaders, human rights based constitutions and global initiatives for justice like UN, Amnesty International. In opening to the world the church needs to be open to being critiqued and challenged by the world particularly in areas of discrimination against laity, women, LGTBIQ and other groups.
b. Practical implications
There needs to be a deeper relationship with world of mutuality, equality and genuine dialogue particularly in the areas of human rights, exclusion and discrimination. Just as the Church takes position on issues of human rights and demands to be heard, similarly the constitutions of countries demand also that the Church open herself up to human rights audit and confronting violations of such rights in her constituency. This requires a reformulation of the hierarchy as open to both internal and external scrutiny – transparency is a critical factor in this relationship both with the world and within the Church itself.
6.2 Interconnectedness of laity and hierarchy
a. Theological basis
The metaphor of the church as the body of Christ expresses this interconnectedness of all baptized believers laity and clergy. It is an interconnectedness of interdependance, mutuality, equality, difference and oneness a modelled in the symbol of the Trinity. The Spirit gives gifts to all and each has a function, Christ is the head.
1 Corinthians 12:1-27 v4 now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord and there are varieties of activities but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
v12 “For just as the body is one and has many members and all the members of the body though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body-Jews or Greeks, slaves or free-and we were all made to drink of one Spirit”
v15 if the foot were to say, ‘because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make 8 it any less a part of the body”
By divine institution Holy Church is ordered and governed with a wonderful diversity. “For just as in one body we have many members, yet all the members have not the same function, so we, the many, are one body in Christ, but severally members one of another”.(191) Therefore, the chosen People of God is one: “one Lord, one faith, one baptism”(192); sharing a common dignity as members from their regeneration in Christ, having the same filial grace and the same vocation to perfection; possessing in common one salvation, one hope and one undivided charity. There is, therefore, in Christ and in the Church no inequality on the basis of race or nationality, social condition or sex, because “there is neither Jew nor Greek: there is neither bond nor free: there is neither male nor female. For you are all ‘one’ in Christ Jesus”.(193)
b. Practical Application
The practical implications are self-evident and have been alluded to in the contributions coming from delegates
-gifts not gender or sexual orientation should determine role of laity -equal participation of laity in all decision making at all levels concerning both faith and practice -recognition of gifts of laity as vocation with same dignity and equality as ordination -inclusion and access to all ministry of the baptized without exception.
6.3. Interconnectedness of Persons
a. Theological basis Christian anthropology maintains the equal human dignity of all persons because they are made in the image of God. The common human nature that is shared by all is the basis of dignity. Dignity implies equality and non discrimination. The common denominator in humanity is dignity, sacredness, difference and social belongingness. The challenge is that equality is defined in conditional terms that has implication to access to power and privilege. For example women and men are equal but their difference is interpreted in ways that qualify equality and differentiates access to rights, privileges and power. This is why the Church can champion the cause of the poor and oppressed and still discriminate against women. This is an example of qualified equality. Similarly LGTBIQ brothers and sisters are also described in ambiguous terms that do not come out upfront declaring equal dignity and humanity based on being made in the image of God. There is a discriminatory conditional unspoken assumption in this discourse. This is why when homosexuals are subject of violence the Church is silent and does not lament at the violation of the image of God. This sends a message that there are conditions on being made in the image of God and that some violations of dignity life that of an unborn child have preference over that of a homosexual person. So there is a hierarchy of value on human life.
There is no recognition of interdependence because some members of the community are excluded. So the gifts of the Spirit that were referred to in the previous section take on a qualified nature and are not as freely distributed as seen in the text. The Spirit is given a classification system that includes and excludes other persons.
Pope Francis has called for a theology of women but in order for this to be liberating there is need for a theology of men, a theology of sexual minorities and that these theologies should emerge to bring out a theology of the human person who is different yet endowed with dignity and equal value. A community therefore is comprised of distinct persons, unique, different yet united in a shared humanity of equal dignity and value.
b. Practical implication
-dignity of human persons is unconditional and refers to all because all are created in the image of God -violations of dignity of any person on grounds of their gender or sexual orientation should be declared a heresy -all baptized are included as equal members with equal voices and participation -structures need to change in liturgy, teaching to embody the equality and unity of all persons
Interconnectedness of person extends to include interconnectedness of cultures, history, economics and religions. This is evident in the current economic systems, climate change, current refugee crisis and wars around the world. Therefore nothing that affects one section of the world is irrelevant for the rest of the world. This gathering is an example of getting together to listen to challenges from each continent in order to respond as a community.
6.4 Interconnectedness of doctrines/teachings
This section does not have a clear theological basis but has practical implications. I will begin with example of the Catholic Church fighting for the rights of the poor, the poorest of whom are women and yet at the same time rejecting gender analysis and the root causes of women’s oppression. One one hand there is a commitment to preferential option of the poor and yet a resistance to engaging gender issues. Similarly, the gospel message is for all – all are loved by God, forgiven and given the grace through the Spirit to live lives pleasing to God. Yet certain members of the community like divorced, separated, sexual minorities are portioned these graces in small quantities because these are now in control of the Church and not the Spirit. All doctrines need to connect and give out a coherent message of inclusion and liberation for all.
Below are some examples of critical and radical connectedness of doctrines; -social teachings with sexual ethics and gender would result in just and equal relationships and also empower the Church to speak out against all forms of gender based violence as a matter of justice. -spirituality, social teachings and sexuality – this combination would enable the church to respond with creative alternatives to distortions of sexuality such as pornography, human trafficking, sex work etc I believe that the this combination of doctrine can generate alternatives beyond rule based micro-managing of sexuality. -christian anthropology with gender, justice and LGTBI – this combination would challenge the current obsession with sexualities of LGTBIQ which assumes that all life’s questions are answered by being heterosexual. There would be equal attention to all sexualities. This would shift the focus of the Church to the distortions of heterosexual sexuality so that they address domestic violence, child abuse, femicide and the worldwide violence against women by intimate partners. Further the Church will also need to confront masculinities as well as develop a language of self-understanding as male persons so that they can have a vocabulary for responding to the masculinity crisis that has resulted in men having the highest rates of substance abuse, violence and suicide. Male pastoral care by male clergy is an area that needs urgent attention from the Church.
6.5. Interconnectedness of all the rooms in the house – discourse on the family
This may seem an obvious connection that a home has rooms that are connected and each room has its own activities yet all these are connected. If one looks at discussions on family, the focus seems to be on one room and that is the bedroom. There is a lot written about this room and what goes on in this room. What we ask for is that a lot be written about what goes on in other rooms like the kitchen – diet, finance, hunger, malnutrition, clean water, gender roles,
work-home balance etc; the living area – time spent with family, media intruding on family life and shaping values. Gender relations, diversity in family , children with different sexualities and capabilities. Even more basic is that many families in the world do not have a house with any rooms or live in one room – how does the lack of housing affect family life? What about the environment, neighbourhoods in which families grow up – social, economic realities? There is as in all the other sections roles for the laity who live in homes and different types of homes and families to be equal participants and contributors on all issues relating to the family.
6.6. Interconnectedness of conscience and community
Gaudium et Spes, the conscience is defined as:
16. In the depths of his conscience, man detects a law which he does not impose upon himself, but which holds him to obedience. Always summoning him to love good and avoid evil, the voice of conscience when necessary speaks to his heart: do this, shun that. For man has in his heart a law written by God; to obey it is the very dignity of man; according to it he will be judged. [Cf. Rom. 2:15-16.] Conscience is the most secret core and sanctuary of a man. There he is alone with God, Whose voice echoes in his depths. [Cf. Pius XII, March 23, 1952: AAS (1952), p. 271] In a wonderful manner conscience reveals that law which is fulfilled by love of God and neighbor.
Conscience is the decision making agency of Christians that brings subjectivity, contextuality and maturity. Many social activists in Catholic Church who have impacted society have been those who followed their conscience in situation where the realities of context contradicted teachings of the Church. 11 The challenge is bringing together conscience and community. Often these are seen as contradictory because community is defined as sameness and difference is not allowed. Yet the ultimate symbol of communion with is Trinity, difference is as much a part of community as sameness. Instead of marginalizing, silencing those with contrary views, the Church needs to look back into her history to discover that right from her inception, differences in views contributed to refining and development of doctrine and teaching. The legacy of the Church is disputation – even in the early church there were disputes between Paul and Peter, Greek and Jewish Christians on circumcision and the law, early Fathers on the status of the Son in relation to the Father and many of the founders of religious orders responded to their conscience as a critique to aspects of teachings and practices of the church. So the community based on Trinitarian model integrates difference as an essential aspect of community.
Practical implication: -differences, disputation and challenges be allowed as part of the discourse in the Church and in theological institutions -freedom of expression without fear -equal participation of all voices -decisions made through conscience need to be accepted in the community of believers and decisions made by community to be tested through conscience – constant communication and interaction.
6.7. Interconnecdness of life
Jesus said that He had come to ‘give life and life in abundance’ (John 10:10) The message inspired by the gospel is an interconnected, holistic vision of life that brings together the -internal chaos and fragmentation in the individual -brokeness in relationships within the human family fuelled by injustice, discrimination and inequality -exploitative relationship between humanity and creation -orthodoxy and orthopraxis. The reality is that the current structures are not life-giving to all and since this is the basic mandate of the gospel to give life in its fullness to all, thus the Church is not able to take up its mandate as the guardian, sustainer and protector of all of life. This constitutes a kairos moment. The concept of kairos as an opportune time to act was of critical importance to the church in South African during apartheid as Christians challenge oppressive theologies in churches that were unable to respond to the crisis of oppression happening in their midst.
I conclude with the lessons from Kairos document that a crisis of oppression in society provides a context to examine a crisis within the Church particularly an analysis of theologies that militate against justice and liberation.
7. Call for reform of structure as Kairos moment for the Church
There is a crisis of representation as the church on one hand champions democracy, peace and justice in general and yet when it comes to specifics of oppression such as gender and LGTBIQ there is a relunctance to fight for their rights.
The question to ask is “What structures and theologies are perpetuating this crisis of representation and complicity in injustice within and outside the church.”
These contradictions open up a space for intervention which has already been spearheaded by Pope Francis but falls short of the specificity of groups.
To refer to this moment of crisis as Kairos that requires action is to draw lessons from Kairos Document produced by church leaders during apartheid era which criticized theologies and structures that were failing to respond to oppression in society.
Let us read from the Kairos document to get a sense of what it means to respond to crisis situation starting with critical analysis of the church and her theologies.
Description of Kairos Document The KAIROS document is a Christian, biblical and theological comment on the political crisis in South Africa today. It is an attempt by concerned Christians in South Africa to reflect on the situation of death in our country. It is a critique of the current theological models that determine the type of activities the Church engages in to try to resolve the problems of the country. It is an attempt to develop, out of this perplexing situation, an alternative biblical and theological model that will in turn lead to forms of activity that will make a real difference to the future of our country4.”
Definition of Kairos in this context
The time has come. The moment of truth has arrived. South Africa has been plunged into a crisis that is shaking the foundations and there is every indication that the crisis has only just begun and that it will deepen and become even more threatening in the months to come. It is the KAIROS or moment of truth not only for apartheid but also for the Church5. 13 The Kairos Document focused on transforming the response of the church to apartheid and therefore sought out to name, identify existing theologies that stopped Christians from rejecting apartheid and joining the struggle for justice. The two theologies that they critiqued were ‘state theology’ and ‘church theology’. State theology used biblical texts to legitimize the apartheid government, for example Romans 13:1-2
“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgement.”
In response, the Kairos Document argued that Christians were not obligated to obey an illegitimate and oppressive state,
The misuse of this famous text is not confined to the present government in South Africa. Throughout the history of Christianity totalitarian regimes have tried to legitimize an attitude of blind obedience and absolute servility towards the state by quoting this text. The well-known theologian Oscar Cullman, pointed this out thirty years ago:
As soon as Christians, out of loyalty to the gospel of Jesus, offer resistance to a State’s totalitarian claim, the representatives of the State or their collaborationist theological advisers are accustomed to appeal to this saying of Paul, as if Christians are here commended to endorse and thus to abet all the crimes of a totalitarian State. ( The State in the New Testament, SCM 1957 p 56.)6
The other theology that was critiqued by the Kairos Document was ‘church theology’. One of the proposals by church theologians was to promote reconciliation between the races in a context of oppression. These actions did not contribute to the dismantling of an unjust political and economic systems of apartheid. In their critique of this type of theology in the context of oppression, the Kairos document argued that this theology did not tackle the fundamental issues of unjust structures in society that were being perpetuated by the government, it lacked a social and political analysis and critique. The following two quotations from the Kairos document explain their argument, Church Theology’ takes ‘reconciliation’ as the key to problem resolution. It talks about the need for reconciliation between white and black, or between all South Africans.
‘Church Theology’ often describes the Christian stance in the following way: “We must be fair. We must listen to both sides of the story. If the two sides can only meet to talk and negotiate they will sort out their differences and misunderstandings, and the conflict will be resolved.” On the face of it this may sound very Christian. But is it?
Closely linked to this, is the lack in ‘Church Theology’ of an adequate understanding of politics and political strategy . Changing the structures of a society is fundamentally a matter of politics. It requires a political strategy based upon a clear social or political analysis. The Church has to address itself to these strategies and to the analysis upon which they are based. It is into this political situation that the Church has to bring the gospel. Not as an alternative solution to our problems as if the gospel provided us with a non-political solution to political problems. There is no specifically Christian solution. There will be a Christian way of approaching the political solutions, a Christian spirit and motivation and attitude. But there is no way of bypassing politics and political strategies.
The failure of both church and state theology to participate in the struggle against apartheid led to the call for a prophetic theology that would empower Christians to participate in the overthrow of apartheid and institution of a democratic government. Prophetic theology was defined as follows, Our present KAIROS calls for a response from Christians that is biblical, spiritual, pastoral and, above all, prophetic. It is not enough in these circumstances to repeat generalized Christian principles. We need a bold and incisive response that is prophetic because it speaks to the particular circumstances of this crisis, a response that does not give the impression of sitting on the fence but is clearly and unambiguously taking a stand.
The Kairos Document is presented as a case study and inspiration to dare to challenge oppressive theologies that militate against liberation. The lessons learnt are precisely to name those theologies that legitimate oppression, deconstruct these and generate prophetic theologies that liberate the oppressed.
In the context of Council 50 the church teachings of exclusion and discrimination against divorced/separated/remarried persons; women, laity, LGTBIQ and marginalized groups presents a kairos moment that requires a systematic engagement with these theologies and the generation of prophetic theologies.
We are gathered here as lovers of the Church as those who seek a vision of the the Church inspired by the gospel and for the world. The Second Vatican Council set the context and Pope Francis continues to push forward this vision through an interconnected thrust for transformation of both the church and the world. However it is apparent that even in the rhetoric of justice for the poor that certain groups are excluded and discriminated against namely and this is a crisis that presents a kairos moment for the church as the people of God to confront theological basis for exclusion, reconstruct these and generate contextual liberating theologies. The gospel needs to take root in the Church first before it can transform the world. At the heart of prophetic theology is the realization of the interconnectedness of all of life which is rooted in the interconnectedness within the Trinity where difference, equality, communion and profound unity that does not dissolve difference. Such a model of interconnectedness from a liberating God creates expansive, include theologies that move beyond tolerance to a profound recognition of the integrity of all life united in equality and justice. This is the vision of Vatican II that we call fourth as the basis of the call of Council 50 for the reform of the Church so that the message of the gospel would take root in both the Church and the world. Only a transformed Church can transform the world!
Bevans, Stephen B. 1992. Models of Contextual Theology. Maryknoll: Orbis Books
Boff, Leonardo. 1988. Trinity and Society. Translated from the Portuguese by Paul Burns. Oregon: Wipf & Stock Publishers. Carr, Anne E. 1990. Transforming Grace. Christian Tradition and Women’s Experience. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco Connell, Robert W. 2000. “Arms and the man:using the new research on masculinity to understand violence and promote peace in the contemporary world” Page 21-33 from Ingeborg Breines, Robert Connell and Ingrid Eide (eds) 2000. Male roles, masculinities and violence A culture of peace perspective. Paris:UNESCO.
Cuzgane, Lahoucine & Morrell, Robert.2005. “African Masculinities: An Introduction” in African Masculinities: Men in Africa from the late nineteenth century to the present. Pietermaritzburg: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press, 1-22.
Dunn, James D.G. 1989. Christology in the making An inquiry into the origins of the doctrine of the incarnation second edition. London: SCM Press.
Dunn, Edmond J. 1998. What is theology? Foundational and Moral. New York: Twenty Third Publications.
Éla, Jean-Marc. 1994. “Christianity and Liberation in Africa,” in Rosino Gibellini (ed). Paths of African Theology. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books,136-153.
Engelbert, Mveng.1994. “Impoverishment and Liberation: A theological approach for Africa and the third world,” in Rosino, Gibellini. (ed). Paths of African Theology. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books,154-165.
Flood, Micharl.2006. “Violence against women is a men’s issue” www.xyonline.net/VAWisemenissue.shtml. Accessed 2 August 2008.
Flood, M. 2005. ‘Mainstreaming Men in Gender and Development’, AusAID Gender. Seminar Series, Canberra. www.bridge.ids.ac.uk/reports/BB15Masculinities.pd. Accessed 9 November 2009. Gula, Richard M. 1989. Reason informed by faith- foundations of Catholic morality. New York: Paulist Press Kanyoro, Musimbi R.A. 2002 Introducing Feminist Cultural Hermeneutics. An African
Perspective (Introductions in Feminist Theology 9). Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press Phiri, Isabel. A 2004. “Southern Africa, ” in Parratt, John. Introduction to Third World Theologies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 37-162.
United Nations Secretary-General’s Task Force on Women, Girls and HIV & AIDS in Southern Africa. 2004. Facing the Future
ST PAUL AND GENDER EQUALITY
I am not an expert on this topic but I think you will be interested in the views of theologians John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg which I will summarise for you from their 2009 book “The First Paul: Reclaiming the Radical Visionary Behind the Church’s Conservative Icon”. I quote from the book: “Some Christians find Paul appealing, and others find him appalling, but we are among his admirers. We see him as an appealing apostle of Jesus whose vision is remarkably faithful to the message and vision of Jesus himself”. In their book they show that the letters which have turned Christians against Paul were not written by Paul, and that Paul himself believed in radical equality. “For many people, meeting this Paul will be like meeting Paul again for the first time”
ABOUT PAUL HIMSELF
Our information about Paul comes from his letters and from the Acts of the Apostles, probably written by Luke. Paul was born in the city of Tarsus, near the Eastern boundary of the Roman Empire, possibly in the year 8 AD, that is, when Jesus would have been 12 years old. While Jesus grew up in a small rural village in the Jewish homeland, Paul grew up in an urban Roman environment. It is not surprising that Jesus preached to Jews in the Jewish homeland, whereas Paul preached to Jews and Gentiles in the cities of the Roman Empire.
Paul’s letters were to small communities within cities, comprising anything between 30 and 100 people. It is estimated that, by the time Paul died, probably in the 60’s AD, there were about 1000 Christians in the Jewish homeland and about 1000 scattered throughout the rest of the Roman Empire.
The authors of “The First Paul” regard him as a “Jewish Christ mystic”, because his preaching centred around the Christ, the resurrected Jesus. A mystic is someone who lives in union or communion with God, and most mystics have ecstatic experiences. Paul himself connects his ecstatic experiences with his “thorn in the flesh”. The authors and other scholars consider that the thorn in the flesh was most likely recurring bouts of malaria, which was endemic in the area
ABOUT PAUL’S LETTERS
Paul’s genuine letters, most or all written in the 50’s, are the earliest writings in the New Testament, as the first Gospel, that of Mark, is considered to have been written in the 70’s, and the other three in the final decades of the first century.
Most scripture scholars agree on 7 of the 13 letters attributed to Paul being written by him. These are Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, 1 Thessalonians, Galatians, Philippians and Philemon. There is a similar consensus that 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus were not written by Paul, and were probably written around the year 100 or later. The authorship of the remaining letters, Ephesians, Colossians and 2 Thessalonians, is in dispute. The authors believe they were not written by Paul, but written after his death, between 70 and 80 AD. The thesis of their book is that the later letters watered down and even reversed some of Paul’s teaching. They call Paul’s genuine letters “The Radical Paul”, the next chronological set of letters “The Conservative Paul”, and the latest written letters “The Reactionary Paul”. They use the subject of slavery to illustrate this process of deradicalisation
PAUL’S RADICAL VIEWS ON SLAVERY IN THE LETTER TO PHILEMON (v8-22)
In this letter Paul clearly opposes the views on slavery prevalent in the Roman Empire at the time, and which are upheld in the later pseudo-Pauline letters. Paul writes to Philemon from the proconsular jail in Ephesus, the capital of the Roman Province of Asia Minor. He writes in connection with Onesimus, one of Philemon’s slaves, who had run away to Paul to beg his protection after getting into some trouble with Philemon. Philemon was a Christian, and Onesimus had also at some point become a Christian. Paul knows that Philemon does not share his own views on equality, so he writes a very persuasive, almost manipulative, letter to him asking him not only to forgive Onesimus but to free him. This is how he goes about manipulating Philemon:
“I am sending Onesimus, that is my own heart, back to you. I wanted to keep him with me, but I preferred to do nothing without your consent, in order that your good deed might be voluntary and not something forced … that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother, both in the flesh and in the Lord. So, if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me”
The phrase “both in the flesh and in the Lord” is crucial for understanding Paul’s meaning. Philemon cannot keep Onesimus as a Christian slave by claiming that, spiritually, we are all equal “in the Lord”. The equality of liberation must be both physical and social, as well as spiritual. So the ‘good deed’ that Paul is twisting Philemon’s arm to perform is to give Onesimus his freedom. Paul is saying that, as Christians, we are all equal – “there are no more slaves and masters”, as he says elsewhere. Paul knocks the final nail in Philemon’s coffin with these closing words:
“If Onesimus owes you anything, I will repay it. I say nothing about your owing me even your very self…. One thing more – prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping through your prayers to be restored to you”
DERADICALISATION OF PAUL’S VIEWS ON SLAVERY
Listen first to the conservative views on slavery in pseudo-Paul’s letter to the Colossians written 20 to 30 years after the letter to Philemon (Chapter 3, v22-25):
“Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything, not only while being watched and in order to please them, but wholeheartedly, fearing the Lord”
This ‘conservative’ letter does at least also carry obligations to slave masters to “treat your slaves justly and fairly”, but tellingly, the slaves are subjected to 4 verses of obligations compared to one verse for the masters. In ‘reactionary’ Paul’s letter to Titus written another 30 years later, there is no longer even a mutuality of obligation – the obligations are all for the slaves – and the tone is more authoritarian and impersonal (Chapter 2, v10):
“Tell slaves to be submissive to their masters and to give satisfaction in every respect….”
THE RADICAL PAUL’S VIEWS ON GENDER EQUALITY
Paul’s vision of gender equality encompasses wives and husbands in the family context, as well as men and women in the Christian assembly and in the Christian apostolate. The subject of equality in the family (1 Corinthians 7, v1-7) comes up because of an issue in Corinth where certain wives, but not their husbands, wanted to observe the celibacy advocated by Paul. Paul addresses this in his first letter to the Corinthians. Remember that Paul was an ascetic celibate. Although he “wishes that all were as I myself am”, he never suggests that every Christian is called to celibacy: “Each has a particular gift from God, one having one kind and another having another kind”. His reason for advocating celibacy is that he mistakenly believed that the world would soon end. But he emphasises about celibacy that “this is a personal preference, not a command…I say this for your own benefit, not to put any restraint upon you”
Before directly addressing the issue of abstinence, Paul sets out his views on equality in the family, emphasising that any obligation of the wife is balanced by that of the husband and vice versa.
“The husband must give his wife what she has a right to expect, and so too the wife to the husband. The wife has no rights over her own body; it is the husband who has them. In the same way, the husband has no rights over his body, the wife has them”
Then he comes to the issue of abstinence: “Do not refuse each other except by mutual consent, and then only for an agreed time, to leave yourselves free for prayer; then come together again in case Satan should take advantage of your weakness to tempt you”. Note how Paul always mentions the obligations of both partners, almost word for word the same, in order to emphasise that husband and wife are equal partners in the family
Equality in the Christian Assembly (1 Corinthians 11, v1-16)
There is no scholarly consensus about this strange passage about women’s heads needing to be covered during services. The authors conjecture that those married women who were insisting on their right to marital celibacy, were proclaiming their celibate status by removing their married or matronal veils. This was creating conflicts within the Assembly, as well as in the family, as we discussed earlier. Paul rather unconvincingly puts forward arguments based on the Biblical account of the way women were created, and on nature (“long hair on a man is nothing to be admired, but for women, it is their glory”), and he resorts to unusually dire threats: “A woman who will not wear a veil ought to have her hair cut off. If a woman is ashamed to have her hair cut off or shaved, she ought to wear a veil”. He is clearly anxious to resolve the conflict caused by certain married women taking unilateral decisions about celibacy, but even so, he makes sure that his readers understand that there are always mutual obligations on both men and women: “For a man to pray or prophesy with his head covered, is a sign of disrespect to his head. For a woman, however, it is a sign of disrespect to her head if she prays or prophesies unveiled”
For our discussion today, the important thing to note about this passage in 1 Corinthians is that it is clear that Paul regards men and women as equal in the Christian Assembly as well as in the home: both pray and prophesy. We will see how this changes later on in the Church, but first let us look at
Equality in the Apostolate
Evidence for this is in end of the letter to the Romans 16, v1-16, where Paul sends greetings to 27 individuals in Rome, 10 of whom are women. First he asks them to welcome the woman deacon, Phoebe, who carries – and therefore reads and explains – Paul’s letter from Corinth’s eastern port to the Christian groups at Rome. Phoebe is Paul’s patron, and is commended in the letter as a benefactor of many Christians.
Of the 27 Christians to whom Paul sends greetings, 5 women and 6 men are singled out for special mention. He commends four of these individuals for dedicated apostolic activity, and all are women: “Greetings to Mary, who worked so hard for you; to Tryphaena and Tryphosa, who work hard for the Lord; to my friend Persis, who has done so much for the Lord”. And two married couples receive extraordinary praise: one is the premier Gentile Christian couple, Priscilla and Aquila: My greetings to Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked death to save my life: I am not the only one to owe them a debt of gratitude, all the churches among the pagans do as well. My greetings also to the church that meets at their house”. Note that Priscilla is mentioned first in the greeting. The other premier couple is the Jewish Christian couple Andronicus and Junia: “Greetings to those outstanding apostles Andronicus and Junia, my compatriots (i.e. fellow Jews) who were in prison with me, and who became Christians before me”. It is clear from this passage that women were also apostles. For Paul, women as well as men were called by God to be apostles of Christ. The Christian gender equality that existed in marriage and home also prevailed in assembly and apostolate
DERADICALISATION OF PAUL’S VIEWS ON GENDER EQUALITY
The conservative Paul – pseudo Paul – in his letters to the Colossians and Ephesians moves back towards the gender hierarchy prevalent in the Roman Empire at the time. He is at pains to provide detailed codes of practice for Christian homes, addressing the householders in hierarchical order descending from parents to children to slaves, and he uses more traditional Roman language. For example, he addresses fathers, not mothers and fathers, and he speaks of slave masters rather than slave owners. Even so, the conservative Paul is still slightly to the left of Roman patriarchy in which mothers, children and slaves would never be addressed directly but only through their ‘superiors’, i.e. husbands, fathers and masters. Compare the conservative Paul with the radical Paul in these extracts from the pseudo Pauline letters:
Ephesians 5, v22-33: “Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the Church…Just as the Church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the Church…He who loves his wife loves himself….Each of you should love his wife as himself, and a wife should respect her husband”
In this passage wives get three verses of instructions, whereas husbands get nine verses, suggesting that husbands were the greater problem at that time.
Now let us look at how the reactionary Paul deals with the subject of female leadership within the Christian assembly 20-30 years later. He has swung completely back to Roman-style patriarchy. In his first letter to Timothy, chapter 2, v11-15, he says:
“Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty”
The authors call this passage reactionary because it is clearly reacting to what is happening in the Christian assembly at the time. Pseudo-Paul would not have written this unless women were involved in teaching and other leadership roles – just as we saw in 1 Corinthians, chapter 11. One final note: In chapter 14 of the radical Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he appears to contradict the views he expressed in chapter 11: “As in all the churches of the saints, women should be silent in the churches…etc”. However there is general scholarly consensus that these verses were added in at a later date, using the letter of Timothy as their source.
We have seen as we move through the authentic through the disputed to the inauthentic letters how St Paul’s vision of radical equality regarding slavery and gender is gradually but deliberately watered down and reversed after his death, as they were felt to be too radical and did not fit in with the prevailing culture. But this vision of radical equality was a true reflection of the teachings and life of Jesus
“Vatican II and the rise of lay movements within the Catholic Church: Not in our name without us”
Dr Nontando Hadebe
Today more than ever, we are called to serve mankind as such, and not merely Catholics; to defend above all and everywhere, the rights of the human person and not merely those of the Catholic Church…’
‘It is not that the Gospel has changed: it is that we have begun to understand it better… the moment has come to discern the signs of the times, to seize the opportunity and to look far ahead
(Ref. Vatican archive, quoted on cover of John XXIII, Pope of the Council, Peter Hebblethwaite, Geoffrey Chapman 1984)
With this quotation Pope John XXIII opened Vatican II and set in motion aggiornamento ‘letting fresh air into the church’ that renewed the Church’s self-understanding and relationships with relationship to the world, Christian denominations and other religions. Gone were adversarial references, a new language of reconciliation and relationships emerged. Central to this renewal was the role of the laity who moved from the peripheral to the centre in the identity and mission of the Church. They were now the people of God entrusted with the mission of the Church. Lay led movements started to emerge around the world bringing in new ways of doing theology that challenged tradition and the status of the hierarchy. Liberation theologies in Latin America led by peasants who were poor and dispossessed and theologians in solidarity with them questioned and challenged prevailing church theologies that sustained the economic and political status quo that violated the dignity of the poor. Women studied theology at universities and seminaries and started to challenge patriarchy and their exclusion from equal participation in the church. Similarly African priests trained in seminaries in Europe and America challenged the exclusion and denigration of African culture which led to development of inculturation and liberation theologies rooted in the African realities. LGTBIQ groups have also added their voices to movements that draw on the teachings of human dignity and justice from Vatican 2 as basis of their struggle for inclusion in the Church. Other movements including environment movements, married priests, ordination of women, and equality for all continue to amplify the voices of the laity. The result is a dynamism within the Church is being managed by Pope Francis but is a source of great worry for others who feel that Vatican II opened a can of worms that is threatening the identity of the Catholic Church. Empowered by Vatican 2 these lay groups seek participation and voices in the running of the Church in order to ensure that nothing is done in the name of the laity without the voices of the laity: ‘not in our name without us’.
To develop the issues raised so far this paper will elaborate further on Vatican 2 and then move on to discuss three contemporary lay movements namely Catholic Women Speak; Council 50 and LGTBIQ and will conclude with a few references to Pope Francis who is critical to lay movements.
As mentioned in the introduction, 16 documents were produced at the end of Vatican II. The following chart will list some of the key documents and quotations in order to capture the critical themes that opened the door for lay participation which inspired movements mentioned in the introduction. These documents express a world faced church responsive to human suffering through the participation of all members of the church that is laity – hence the apostolate of the laity. This is not a one way relationship i.e. the laity serving the church but the church listening and involving the laity in all she does.
Gaudium et Spes(The Joy and Hope) –
Constitution on the Church in the Modern World
To carry out such a task, the Church has always had the duty of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel.Thus, in language intelligible to each generation, she can respond to the perennial questions which men ask about this present life and the life to come, and about the relationship of the one to the other. We must therefore recognize and understand the world in which we live, its explanations, its longings, and its often dramatic characteristics.
16. In the depths of his conscience, man detects a law which he does not impose upon himself, but which holds him to obedience. Always summoning him to love good and avoid evil, the voice of conscience when necessary speaks to his heart: do this, shun that. For man has in his heart a law written by God; to obey it is the very dignity of man; according to it he will be judged.(9) Conscience is the most secret core and sanctuary of a man. There he is alone with God, Whose voice echoes in his depths.(10) In a wonderful manner conscience reveals that law which is fulfilled by love of God and neighbor.(11) In fidelity to conscience, Christians are joined with the rest of men in the search for truth, and for the genuine solution to the numerous problems which arise in the life of individuals from social relationships.
True, all men are not alike from the point of view of varying physical power and the diversity of intellectual and moral resources. Nevertheless, with respect to the fundamental rights of the person, every type of discrimination, whether social or cultural, whether based on sex, race, color, social condition, language or religion, is to be overcome and eradicated as contrary to God’s intent.
Furthermore, whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia or wilful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where men are treated as mere tools for profit, rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others of their like are infamies indeed. They poison human society, but they do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are supreme dishonor to the Creator.
Human dignity of all persons based on their being made in the image of God
Lumen Gentium (Light of the Nations) –
Constitution on the Church
The description of the Church in relational and inclusive terms moving away from institutional model e.g. Church as ‘people of God’, ‘bride of Christ’ and all members participating in the priesthood, prophetic ministry of Jesus – inclusion of laity.
10. Christ the Lord, High Priest taken from among men,(100) made the new people “a kingdom and priests to God the Father”.(101) The baptized, by regeneration and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, are consecrated as a spiritual house and a holy priesthood, in order that through all those works which are those of the Christian man they may offer spiritual sacrifices and proclaim the power of Him who has called them out of darkness into His marvelous light.(102) Therefore all the disciples of Christ, persevering in prayer and praising God,(103) should present themselves as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.(104)
Mission of church – respond to human suffering
“the Church encompasses with love all who are afflicted with human suffering and in the poor and afflicted sees the image of its poor and suffering Founder. It does all it can to relieve their need and in them it strives to serve Christ” (LG, 8).
Apostolicam Acuositatem(To Intensify the Apostolate) – On the Apostolate of the Laity
First ecumenical document on the laity
Vatican II is often called “the council of the laity”
The laity are members of God’s “Royal Priesthood” and thus offer “priestly sacrifices” in their daily lives and witness
Lay people are in the world not just Church
In fulfilling this mission of the Church, the Christian laity exercise their apostolate both in the Church and in the world, in both the spiritual and the temporal orders. These orders, although distinct, are so connected in the singular plan of God that He Himself intends to raise up the whole world again in Christ and to make it a new creation, initially on earth and completely on the last day. In both orders the layman, being simultaneously a believer and a citizen, should be continuously led by the same Christian conscience.
Thus every layman, in virtue of the very gifts bestowed upon him, is at the same time a witness and a living instrument of the mission of the Church itself “according to the measure of Christ’s bestowal”.(197)
There is so much richness in these documents that these quotations do a disservice but the purpose is not to be comprehensive but to highlight the central theme of orientation towards the world, renewed understanding of the Church as ‘people of God’ not an informal structure or institution. The lay movements emerged in this context of inclusion that requires a two way relationship where their voices that come from experiences in the world are heard and included in decisions made by the Church. The next section on three case studies illustrates this point. The first case study will be on Catholic Women Speak and their intervention at the Synod of Bishops through a book with the same title containing the voices of women across the world.
Case Study One: Catholic Women Speak’s intervention at Synod of Bishops on the Family
This section will begin with a brief description of the Synod of Bishops on the family as background to the intervention of Catholic Women Speak. Pope Francis convened the Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on 8th October 2013 to deliberate on the topic: The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization (Instrumentum Laboris 2014). A preparatory document was presented to the Synod and later distributed to bishops across the world to elicit the response and participation of the laity. The findings from the responses of the laity were compiled in a document called the Instrumentum Laboris (2014). A re-occurring theme was the disjuncture between the official teachings of the Catholic Church and the practices and attitudes of members: “A vast majority of responses highlight the growing conflict between the values on marriage and family as proposed by the Church and the globally diversified social and cultural situations” (IL 2014). This gap has also been confirmed through research by independent companies on the synodal process. Claque (2015:53) cites research carried out in 12 countries across the world which together comprise 60% of Catholics where the findings revealed the same gap: “Taken together, these findings suggest an extraordinary disconnect between the church’s basic teachings on the fundamental issues of family and pastoral responsibilities and the viewpoints currently held by many of the world’s more than 1 billion Catholics.”
The Synod was convened in October 2016 with voting powers limited to the delegation of bishops. The presence of laity and observers including women did not have voting rights and could therefore not influence the decisions that were made.
The intervention of Catholic Women Speak needs to be understood in this context of exclusion of women. It seems incongruent that a synod on the family would exclude the voices of women.
The Network was initially established as a Facebook group by Professor Tina Beattie (2016:1). The purpose of the group was to discuss the status of women in the context of the papacy of Pope Francis. For Beattie and members of the Network, there was no marked improvement in the status of women as reflected in the following observation:
Like many others, I was beginning to realize that tackling the issue of the role of women in the church was not one of Pope Francis’s priorities, however much he acknowledged the problem. The initial euphoria of his election was gradually being replaced by the realization that we women would continue to be joked about, patronized, and romanticized, but the chances of our being treated as full and equal members of Christ’s church seemed as remote as ever.
The group as noted in the introduction is diverse in nationality, race, profession, marital status and sexual orientation. They produced a book reflecting their diversity of experiences as critique of the Church’s teaching on the family and protest against the exclusion of women’s voices and experiences from the Synod of Bishops on the Family. Beattie (2016:2) describes the diversity of contributions as follows,
Contributions included reflections on Scripture, history, and theology; on marriage and family life, divorce and remarriage, and same sex love; on motherhood, sexuality, and birth control; on celibacy and the single life; on poverty, migration, and violence; and on women in church institutions and structures.
The strength of the book lies in its ability to speak in the plural reflecting the diversity of women’s theologies and experiences of the teachings of the Church on the family. Orobator in his foreword of the book describes the strength of the diversity of the book as follows,
The narratives voiced by contributors to this anthology are at times joyful and jolting, consoling and painful, exhilarating and exasperating. They tell of “the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties” that Catholic women live and experience in multiple forms of human sexuality, family, marriage, and relationships. They lament the painful exclusion, violence, and poverty that compound these experiences, and question the institutions and structures that sustain them, but without abandoning faith.. (2015: xii).
Several authors wrote from their personal experiences as part of their critique of the teachings of the Church: Cannon (2015:83) writes about her experience of divorce in the light of the Church’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage: “That “Church-approved” marriage lasted four profoundly damaging years, in which I was exposed to mental cruelty and abuse as well as serial infidelity and ended six months after our daughter was born”; Espinoza and Horner (2015:94) comment on the detrimental effect of natural family planning on couples as “especially stressful for couples who know that pregnancy would pose a grave health risk”; and Hallagan (2015:114) on same sex love “I loved a girl and I knew that wasn’t right; my mind was constantly plagued with fear that I was a lesbian. I hated myself. I felt useless and worthless and very small and stupid.”
Some of the chapters challenge specific teachings of the Church from a theological and contextual perspective. Del Rio Mena (2015:28) from Latin America challenges the Marian principle which she refers to as ‘marianismo’: “I will spend more time on marianismo because our continent is a Marian continent, and the symbolic significance of Mary is complex and ambiguous,” because for “many women, Mary has modeled their womanhood; for others, she has been the explosive source of deep rebellion and internal rapture.” Similarly Arabome (2015) critiques the Church’s reduction of women’s role to motherhood as oppressive: “However, the church’s rush to endorse woman’s role as procreator and helpmate often bypass the positive valorization of the personhood of the African woman in herself.” Similarly Johnson (2015:21) identifies patriarchy as a practice in the Church that has a historical basis and is the source of women’s inequality,
The Church reflects this inequality in all of its aspects. Sacred texts, religious symbols, doctrines, moral teachings, canon laws, rituals and governing offices are all designed and led by men. Even God is imagined most often as a powerful patriarch in heaven ruling the earth and its people. In turn, this sacred patriarchy justifies the rule of men over women in family and wider society.
The dominant theme of women’s agency through this book is expressed by Militello (2015:10) describes women as follows: “Women have moved from silence into speech, from invisibility to presence, from submission to coresponsibility.”
The book was launched in Rome on 1 October and copies were distributed during the launch and over 300 copies were provided for the bishops attending the conference.
The book was sold out in its first print and at one point was going for $400! It has received reviews in all continents and has its own website. It is now in its fifth edition and was recently on the best seller’s list in religious category and second in the category of gender (US).
Case 2: Council 50
I will not say much about the Council as Douglas already reported on it. I will share a few points from the paper that I presented as part of a theological response to contemporary challenges and my main theme was the gift of ‘ubuntu’ as the interconnectedness of everything – a theme that is strong in laudato Si.
Interconnectedness of ‘heaven and earth’
The spiritual and the world in dialogue where there is a two way communication – the Church also listens and learns from the world and vice versa.
There needs to be a deeper relationship with world of mutuality, equality and genuine dialogue particularly in the areas of human rights, exclusion and discrimination. Just as the Church takes position on issues of human rights and demands to be heard, similarly the constitutions of countries demand also that the Church open herself up to human rights audit and confronting violations of such rights in her constituency.
This requires a reformulation of the hierarchy as open to both internal and external scrutiny – transparency is a critical factor in this relationship both with the world and within the Church itself.
Interconnectedness of laity and hierarchy – same principle that the Church listens and involves the laity in all aspects of the life of the church and does not limit the interaction to the Church telling the laity what to do without listening to their voices
gifts not gender or sexual orientation should determine role of laity
-equal participation of laity in all decision making at all levels concerning both faith and practice
-recognition of gifts of laity as vocation with same dignity and equality as ordination
-inclusion and access to all ministry of the baptized without exception.
Interconnectedness of Persons
The common denominator in humanity is dignity, sacredness, difference and social belongingness. The challenge is that equality is defined in conditional terms that has implication to access to power and privilege. For example women and men are equal but their difference is interpreted in ways that qualify equality and differentiates access to rights, privileges and power. This is why the Church can champion the cause of the poor and oppressed and still discriminate against women. This is an example of qualified equality.
Interconnectedness of doctrines/teachings
the gospel message is for all – all are loved by God, forgiven and given the grace through the Spirit to live lives pleasing to God. Yet certain members of the community like divorced, separated, sexual minorities are portioned these graces in small quantities because these are now in control of the Church and not the Spirit.
For example -spirituality, social teachings and sexuality – this combination would enable the church to respond with creative alternatives to distortions of sexuality such as pornography, human trafficking, sex work etc generate alternatives beyond rule based micro-managing of sexuality.
6.5. Interconnectedness of all the rooms in the house – discourse on the family
This may seem an obvious connection that a home has rooms that are connected and each room has its own activities yet all these are connected. If one looks at discussions on family, the focus seems to be on one room and that is the bedroom. There is a lot written about this room and what goes on in this room. What we ask for is that a lot be written about what goes on in other rooms like the kitchen – diet, finance, hunger, malnutrition, clean water, gender roles, work-home balance etc; the living area – time spent with family, media intruding on family life and shaping values. Gender relations, diversity in family , children with different sexualities and capabilities. Even more basic is that many families in the world do not have a house with any rooms or live in one room – how does the lack of housing affect family life? What about the environment, neighbourhoods in which families grow up – social, economic realities? There is as in all the other sections roles for the laity who live in homes and different types of homes and families to be equal participants and contributors on all issues relating to the family.
6.6. Interconnectedness of conscience and community
Conscience is the decision making agency of Christians that brings subjectivity, contextuality and maturity. Many social activists in Catholic Church who have impacted society have been those who followed their conscience in situation where the realities of context contradicted teachings of the Church.
The challenge is bringing together conscience and community. Often these are seen as contradictory because community is defined as sameness and difference is not allowed. Yet the ultimate symbol of communion with is Trinity, difference is as much a part of community as sameness. Instead of marginalizing, silencing those with contrary views, the Church needs to look back into her history to discover that right from her inception, differences in views contributed to refining and development of doctrine and teaching.
6.7. Interconnectedness of life
Holistic vision of life that is a byproduct of all these interconnectednesses.
Case Study: LGTBIQ and “unAfrican discourse”
The teaching of the Church on homosexuality as an ‘intrinsic evil’ or ‘disordered sexuality’ is known to most of us. The rejection of same sex unions is based on the nature of marriage as being between a woman and man and rejection of homosexuality as ‘unnatural’ (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith n.p. 2003),
There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family. Marriage is holy, while homosexual acts go against the natural moral law. Homosexual acts “close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.
Although Pope Francis in his latest encyclical ‘Joy of Love’ adopts a pastoral approach that seeks to embrace LGTBIQ persons this has not translated into a change in teaching or status as evidenced in rejection of same sex marriage.
In the African context the Church has found allies with the discourse of rejection of LGTBIQ as ‘unAfrican’ and western input. The criminalization and violations of LGTBIQ has not met with outright condemnation from African bishops who also reject homosexuality as unAfrican and a threat to the African family. Perpetrators of ‘corrective rape’ mostly men who rape lesbians and gay men appeal to the ‘unAfrican’ claim to justify their actions. The voices of churches is mute or silenced by fear that condemning violence against LGTBIQ would be interpreted as support for their personhood and dignity and that seems to be a high price to pay hence the silence and non-public outcry against violence perpetrated. The Church has locked herself into a corner by endorsing the ‘unAfrican’ discourse and turning a blind eye to the violations of fellow human beings – fear, ignorance seems to be the driving force rather than love, compassion and justice.
This year I attended a conference hosted by the Other Foundation on the theme ‘Homophobia and the Churches in Africa’ held in Pietermaritzburg from 7-8 April. Among the guests of honour were the parents and brother of Edu, a lesbian soccer player who was raped and brutally murdered in Soweto. Her parents have since formed a support group of parents of LGTBIQ who educate communities and also struggle against beliefs that fuel hate crimes particularly corrective rape.
Vatican II opened the door for the laity to participate and they have through movements that have merged as they related to the marginalized and excluded in society. The problem seems to be that their voices and contributions are not heard that the flow seems to be one way – the church telling the laity what to do and not a dialogue where their voices are heard. The laity are not succumbing to silence and are making their voices heard so that the church will not speak in their name without them.
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WOMEN DEACONS: Is this really a significant issue for the church today?
Dr Judith Coyle IHM
A talk given under the auspices of WAACSA (Gauteng) on 27 AUGUST 2016
Today there is a new ‘urgency’ to this question as Pope Francis has appointed a commission to ‘study the question’. The question has two sides:
women are already doing diaconal work it is not necessary to be ordained to do it
it will give women a formal position/authority it will impede the development of the laity who can already do most of what the deacons do
it will further the equality of women ‘entering the lowest rung of the hierarchical structure exacerbates women’s inequality in the church/ sexist exploitation (cf. Moon p. 127)
it will puncture the balloon of ‘clericalism’ it will only add a new layer to it
it may help to clarify the diaconal role it will only threaten and confuse
it might help declining numbers of women religious the place of vowed women religious is not that of ‘ordained’ office in the church
it will allow the voice of women to be heard ordination is not necessary for this, just changes in canon law
Pope Francis recently appointed a commission of 12 persons, 6 women and six men to ‘study the role of women deacons in the early church’. He was angered that the media reported it as ‘opening the door to women deacons’, nonetheless he did take a step. Most are from Europe, experts in theology, scripture, church history, etc. Some are known proponents for ordaining women deacons, especially an American scholar, Phyllis Zagano. At least one, a theologian from Germany, Menke is adamant against it. There are 6 priests, 6 women (4 lay and two religious). How will it all play out?
This is not a ‘new’ question. Paul IV asked the International Theological Commission to study the same question. Their report was never published, but more on this later.
Within the question however are issues of history, terminology, theology, authority and governance- not to mention pastoral applications, although this last seems perhaps the least of questions given what women are already doing in the church, and have done for centuries.
History is important because it suggests a precedent, a tradition on which to build. But will historical evidence alone be enough to ‘convince’ or build on? Will it provide an answer to contemporary questions or the real needs of our times?
Terminology is also important. Some distinguish ‘female deacons’ and ‘deaconnesses’. Some propose instituting ‘deaconesses’, but not ordaining female deacons. Does it matter?
Theology? There are questions of sacramental theology. Is ordination just one sacrament on three levels (deacon, priest, bishop)? As women cannot be sacramentally ordained priest, does it imply also the denial of the diaconate? Are all three ordained ‘in persona Christi” or only the priest and bishop? Can there be a distinction, or must there be? Or is this theology itself (as with that of priesthood effecting an ‘ontological change’) being questioned?
Legalities of authority and governance. Only clerics have governance in the church. The 1983 code of canon law said laity (hence all women) can ‘share’ in exercise of governance, but then this was changed to ‘cooperate’ in governance; laity have consultative ‘power’ but only clerics have governance. Ordination qualifies for ‘authority and governance’.
Pastoral application? This could be very difficult to consider, as there is such a multiplicity of pastoral situations in the world church. However, even now, in re: male deacons, the local bishop has the authority to ordain-or not, deacons in his diocese according to need.
Many use the above in their arguments both for and against the ordaining women to the diaconate. I will consider here especially the history as that is the ‘agenda’ Francis initially proposed as the basis for this study.
Are there precedents which can be considered re: ordaining women deacons as was the case with male deacons in its reinstitution?
Unmistakable evidence from scholarship attests to fact that women served as deacons from earliest centuries of Christianity and remained active in both East and West until 12th century (Macy, p. 9).
Scriptural evidence: 2 key texts.
Romans 16: 1-2. ‘I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon (diakonos) of the church at Cenchreae’. Origen writing in the 3rd century says ‘This passage teaches by apostolic authority that women also are appointed in the ministry of the church, in which office Phoebe was placed at the church that is in Cenchreae.’ Others commenting on this passage from Paul (John Chrysostom, Pelagius, Theodoret of Cyrrhus) all recognize her as deacon.
1 Tim 3:8-11. This sets out the requirements for men deacons: ‘Deacons likewise must be serious, not double-tongued, not indulging in much wine, etc’…But right in the middle it adds: Women likewise must be serious, not slanderers, but temperate, faithful in all things.’ John Chrysostom said of this passage ‘Some say that Paul is talking about women in general, but that cannot be. Why would he want to insert in the middle of what he is saying something about women? But rather he is speaking of those women who hold the rank of deacon.’ other authors in this era concur with this, one adding, Paul is not just talking about ‘deacon’s having wives’. Such interpretations held among writers until the 12th century. Hence women as deacons were 1) acknowledged in scripture and 2) had apostolic foundation. (Acts 6:1-6 describes the choice of the 7 men considered the first deacons although the word itself is not used in that passage. Also note that they were appointed by and from the community, according to need, and not by Christ (as is the argument as to why the church cannot ordain women to the priesthood. Christ did not.)
OTHER HISTORICAL EVIDENCE
Preponderance of evidence of women deacons is from the Eastern church. But recall that until around 1054 there was ONE church, EAST ROMAN (Constantinople) and WEST ROMAN (Rome)Greek and Latin.
Women deacons in the Eastern Church:
Valerie Karras in a major study (2004) say that women deacons ‘thrived’ in the early Byzantine period (4th – 7th centuries) ‘we have ample literary and archaeological evidence’ from the capital city and a number of other areas, particularly Asia Minor (p. 274ff). She notes as examples:
John Chrysostom, archbishop of Constantinople ‘counted as one of his closest friends and supporters the wealthy and influential deaconess Olympias’. Her name is also in other writings (Gregory Nazianzus).
The emperor Justinian in the mid-6th century writes legislation for the clergy (including strict laws enforcing chastity), but including female deacons, who he says must be at least 60 years of age (later this was changed to 50, then 40).
Councils of Nicea (325) and Chalcedon (mid-5th C.) ‘no doubt about the sacramental nature of feminine diaconate…clear that at least at this period in the East, we are not dealing with an inferior order’ (Karras).
Karras said the diaconate was considered a MAJOR ORDER, with specific roles in rites, and strict behavioural norms- even more strict for women deacons (even to death for marriage or fornication-due to fear of hierarchs, emperors, cultural notion of women as morally weaker). But the very fact of such rules imply their status as members of major orders in the clergy. Lesser orders did not have the same requirements.
Gary Macy says there are dozens of references in letters, lives of the saints, chronicles, inscriptions and laws attest to them until from 5th to 7th century (p. 11ff). In addition to Olympias he notes John Chrysostom also wrote 4 letters to Amproukla, a deacon in Constantinople who supported him in exile. The bishop of Antioch, Severus, wrote (on scriptural exegesis) to a woman deacon Anastasia from his exile in the 6th century. In the 9th century the patriarch of Constantinople lists the ministers of the Great Church of Hagia Sophia and includes 40 women deacons -and 100 male deacons. Even after this period writers attest to women deacons, even though they were no longer ordained after 11th century.
Women Deacons In The Western (Latin) Church:
The first certain reference are in 5th century, although it might be in reference to Eastern practice.
They are not so clearly named in the West as in the east, but again there are references in wills, letters and chronicles. Some are named in inscriptions: Anna, Theodora, Ausonia (who had children)-all in the 6th century. The most famous on was Queen Radegund, wife of King Clothar I (6th C). She left king and demanded to be ordained a deacon.
Various other references (including papal writings) until the 12th century exist, sometimes they prohibit marriage by the woman deacon or to her, but also granting to bishops the privilege of ordaining deaconesses. But there were also conciliar canons which forbade their ordination, yet these give a kind of ‘negative’ evidence of their existence, but they may have been women deacons from the East who had come to the West (cf Macy, 13-17).
A major evidence for the existence of ordained women deacons in the church is in ritual books. These testify to a practice and sacramental theology. Manuscripts from the 8th through the 14th century attest to the ordination of women deacons. Even a 17th century liturgist (Jean Morin) who studied ordination rites in Greek, Latin and Syriac concluded the same rites were used for men and women deacons in most ancient Greek rituals. Scholars today confirm this (Wijngaards and FitzGerald, Bradshaw.) Greek rituals agree saying ‘both (male and female) are called ordinations (not installations), both celebrated at the altar by the bishop, both in the same liturgical space, hands are placed on both while the bishop offers prayers, a stole is placed on the neck of both, both communicate with the clergy, the chalice placed in the hands of both so they may taste of the blood of Christ. (cf. Macy, 18-20).
Prayer from 8th century Greek ritual of ordination of woman deacon:
Holy and omnipotent Lord, through the birth of your Only Son our God from a Virgin according to the flesh, you have sanctified the female sex. You grant not only to men, but also to women the grace and coming of the Holy Spirit. Please, Lord, look on this your maidservant and dedicate her to the task of your diaconate, and pour out into her the rich and abundant giving of your Holy Spirit. Preserve her so that she may always perform her ministry with orthodox faith and irreproachable conduct, according to what is pleasing to you. For to you is due all glory and honour. ]
Ordination Rites for Women Deacons in the Western church:
The earliest evidence, 8th century, Bishop Egbert of York.Rite for both male and female deacons. 9th century Gregorian sacramentary repeats the same. As does 10th century Romano-Germanic pontifical, including instructions for placing stole on her, which stole was to indicate her function to teach. Hands were also laid on her. These rites were in evidence until the 12th century in Rome, but subsequently they disappeared. But clearly there were rites for ordaining women deacons, some of which included the veiling of her as consecrated virgin (Macy, 20-23).
FEMALE DEACONS-women who served in the ministry of deacon. They had various roles, primarily in regard to ministry to women, but also in support of the larger church. Norman Tanner, SJ, scholar of ecumenical councils: women as deacons are not significantly in dispute in the Catholic Church! There were such in the church for centuries, and even until today in the Orthodox church. Some indeed were ordained” i.e. Canon 15 of Council of Chalcedon 451 speaks explicitly of ‘laying on of hands (keirotoneisthai) upon the woman and her resulting ministry (leitourgia) as deacon (diakonos)’ (Tanner, 671)
DEACONNESS- sometimes used interchangeably with ‘female deacons’ or just ‘deacons’. This term was also used, however, to refer to a woman whose husband had been made a bishop and as continence came to be required of the bishop, his wife (being the partner of his ‘continence’) was made a deaconess. In the present arguments for and against women deacons some may admit to ‘deaconnesses’ but claim it is not the same as women deacons. Recently a German bishop said a special ‘order’ of deaconess should be established for women deacons. Zagano terms this ‘The dangerous ‘deaconess’ discussion’. It is THE diaconate, or not!
WIDOW-there is evidence in early church documents of an order of widows who were installed and held a special position in the ‘ranks’ of the church’, with similar expectations, but these should not be confused with ordained women deacons, though they may have had similar works.
ABBESS- there is much evidence of the association of the ordination of women as deacons with the installation of a woman as the abbess of a monastic community. In some cases both rituals went together, her ordination so as to be able to teach, direct and lead prayer within her community . 9th century testimony: Irene, ordained at Hagia Sophia tells of the patriarch ‘burning incense and praising God and initiating a hymn befitting the occasion. The he first ordained Irene deaconess of the Great church- for through the Spirit in him he knew her great purity- and thereafter consecrated her with the seal of the hegumenate (abbess)’ (cf. Karras).Some codex(s) from 11TH – 12TH C to 14th say according to custom of ‘today’ a deacon must be a nun! (By implication there must have been deacons before who were not nuns).
CONCLUSIONS AS RE: HISTORY:
We are not going to have an exact, clear straight picture of women deacons, uniform in rite and ministry in both East and West in this first millennium, yet as Zagano says, there are ‘truckloads’ of evidence of their existence.
Norman Tanner concurs: ‘Women as deacons are not significantly in dispute in the Catholic Church. There were such deacons for centuries in the East and West and at least some were ordained to this ministry. Rome must be careful not to exclude this possibility which was a sustained tradition.’ It seems that while it cannot be excluded, it cannot be encouraged either!
Madigan and Osiek writing on the same topic say there is overwhelming evidence that ‘women held office in the early church, but the picture of what exactly they did is clouded by regional variation, changing attitudes and great fluidity of terminology. (cf review by Ludlow, 134).
This last point is important to remember. The kind of ‘uniformity’ we presume in the church today (all reading from the same hymn/ritual book!) was not the situation in this first millennium. It cautions us to be careful in claiming any particular practice as sure precedent. However, precedent can also provide a ground on which to build a new interpretation.
WHAT DID THEY DO?
Generally their ministry was with women, in baptism, teaching of women, and pastoral responsibilities, including liturgical chanting. Madigan and Osiek note roles may have been restricted by social norms of the time, but it was not from a specific theology of the role of priest or bishop in the sacraments. (Madigan and Osiek, Ordained Women in the Early Church. A Documentary History. to 600 CE) Was a distinct role in the community, even if not ordained.
WHAT HAPPENED TO THIS WIDESPREAD AND LONG TRADITION:
In time this role disappeared from ‘the books’. It seems to have been more of an evolution rather than a deliberate conciliar decision (although subsequently rules do forbid it), but many factors came to influence it.
- The role/function of the deacon itself was more and more assumed by the priest, now conceived as having sacred powers rather than ministerial orders. Even until Vatican II the diaconate was only a way-step to priesthood, until the permanent diaconate was restored.
- The requirement of ritual ‘purity’. From other studies relative to the requirement of celibacy for priestly ordination we know that already in the 4th century, there was a growing ‘preoccupation’ or understanding of the necessity of cultic purity- from the OT prescriptions- which required the priest abstain from sexual relations. While this took centuries to become ‘law’ in the church (with much resistance!), women were understood to be ritually impure due to childbirth, menstrual cycles. Yet two early church documents protest against this: Didascalia Apostolorum in which a bishop says if you have the spirit, you have it. It is not lost by ‘reason of natural issues and the intercourse of marriage’. And Apostolic Constitutions: ‘Neither lawful mixture (intercourse), nor child bearing, nor the menstrual purgation, nor nocturnal pollution can defile the nature of a person or separate the Holy Spirit from him…but only impiety towards God, transgression, and injustice towards one’s neighbour’ (cf. Teva Regule ). But these writers were swimming against an eventual tide.
Karras concludes that this was the primary reason for the decline.
A QUESTION FROM THE HISTORY: WAS SUCH ORDINATION A SACRAMENT?
When speaking here of ‘sacrament’ I am using it in the way in which we have traditionally understood it, as referring to those 7 privileged actions of the church which form the ritual core of our faith belief and practice. In the wider sense we speak of Christ as sacrament of the Godhead, of the church as sacrament of Christ, and of the sacramentality of the whole of creation (including ourselves), the belief that all ‘outward signs’ can reveal something to us of an inner reality’. It is this very ‘sacramentality’ which is a distinguishing mark of ‘Catholic church.’
But relative to our question of whether or not women deacons ‘received a sacrament’ Norman Tanner observes: ordination as a ‘sacrament’ as we know it today was not really classified as such until the 12th century, but there was a fundamental continuity in the rite through the early and medieval church, so it can be applied throughout the history (ie. ordination is a sacrament- deacons, priests, bishops).
Regarding the diaconate, he says when looking at the ordination of male deacons and that of female deacons, there was an overlap in the content and the intent between these ordinations, hence it is reasonable to extend the ‘sacramentality’ of ordination to women in the diaconate this era (until the Middle Ages). While there were some distinctions in the rite for women, they were only according to the norms of social behaviour (eg. the ‘appropriate’ relation of the male bishop and the female diaconal candidate) applicable at the time. (eg. Women bows head, does not kneel before the bishop, woman does not receive the tunic as she does not dispense the cup during the holy mysteries). So you cannot say that women as women are ‘incapable’ of sacramental ordination because they are women, although that has been a teaching right up to the present time.
Today, one of the arguments against ordaining women deacons says that ‘Orders’ is but one sacrament on three levels, and as the church has said women cannot be ‘ordained’ priests, it must likewise be applied to the ‘diaconal level’ if you will, and so orders is entirely reserved to men (diaconate, priesthood, episcopacy). Contrary to what Tanner would hold, even if women were ‘ordained deacons’ it was not a sacrament. Some would allow some special type of rank of ‘deaconess’, but it would not be one of ‘orders’.
Somewhat related to this question of the sacrament of orders with its three levels is Zagano’s argument, directed primarily against the ‘slippery sloop’ of diaconal ordination. Because for so long ordination to the diaconate was seen to be just the first step to priestly ordination, some resist it because it might lead to ‘women priests’. But Zagano says: the church has already said that women cannot be priests. It is a teaching of the magisterium. If it cannot be done, why argue that ordaining women deacons may lead to priesthood (cf. Zagano, 2009, 204). There is already a ‘full stop’ to the diaconate (so to speak). The ‘permanent diaconate’ restored at the council means just that (the real anomaly may be the ‘transitional’ diaconate!) Nonetheless articles dealing with this topic often tend to ‘morph’ into discussion of women priests. It may be difficult to separate them. If women are ‘ordainable’, ie if they can serve ‘in persona Christi’, it can affect the argument in regard to their ordination as priest as well. This is THE fear of Rome. This is why some are against any allowance of admitting women to ‘ordination’, and suggest a special ‘rank’ or ‘order’ of deaconess. But Zagano argues dead against that, as it would exclude from authority and governance – which only the ordained can assume.
WHAT OF MORE RECENT ‘OFFICIAL STUDIES’ OF WOMEN DEACONS?
As mentioned above, Paul VI soon after the permanent diaconate was restored in 1972 asked the International Theological Commission to investigate the question of women deacons, which was raised by various bishops- at the time of the council, and even until today.
In fact it seems two studies have been done already on this question by the ITC:
- From 1992-1997 but this was never released. The head of the CDF (Ratzinger) refused to sign it (presuming it took a positive view of ordaining women deacons).
- A much longer study was finally published in 2002. Cardinal Muller, the present head of CDF helped write it. It concluded male and female deacons are not ‘purely and simply equivalent’ (deaconesses were inferior). The study was ambiguous, and said it is up to church authority (magisterium) to discern the issue today.
Cipriano Vagaggini (Camaldonese monk) who was part of this study published some of its core findings in an Italian article which concluded: women had been ordained to major order of the diaconate over many centuries and different regions of the Greek and Byzantine church in liturgies virtually identical to male deacons. Their ordinations were equal to males even if their work differed. Many differed with his conclusions, but at the Synod of Bishops on the Laity in 1987, Vagaggini answered his critics convincingly (cf. Zagano 2016). Today such studies are again in the church’s public eye.
AN ‘INTERRUPTION’ OF THE DISCUSSION: ORDINATION OF WOMEN TO PRIESTHOOD
These various ‘diaconal’ studies, however, were somewhat usurped by question of women’s ordination to priesthood which arose on the head of two Women’s Ordination Conferences in 1975 and 1979.
Briefly the documents are:
Inter Insignores (1976) by John Paul II argues: 1) Jesus chose only men, 2) as priest acts ‘in persona Christi’, only male can represent Christ. This document was attack by theologians for its naïve physicality. Elizabeth Johnson wrote: Women ARE icons of Christ by their humanity and participation in divine grace. It is dangerous to teach otherwise (cf. Zagano 2003).
Ordinato Sacerdotalis, (1994) by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF): 1) dropped the ‘in persona Christi’ argument, 2) argued from authority, the Church does not have authority to ordain women, 3) but there was no mention of women deacons.
A clarification of this document (1995) said this is to be understood as belonging to the deposit of faith, since it is ‘founded on the written Word of God’, and from the beginning constantly preserved and applied in the Tradition of the Church, [and] set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal Magisterium’, so held by all the faithful. But questions have been raised on each element of this clarification. But this is another talk…
BACK TO THE DIACONAL DISCUSSION
The 2002 document from ITC re: women deacons 1) tries to recast ‘in persona Christi’; 2) it presupposes diaconate IS sacramental, but it has new language as to the deacon. It distinguishes a) priest: ‘in persona Christi capites’ (how the priest acts, Christ as head), and b) deacon: ‘in persona Christi servi’ (how the deacon acts, Christ as servant). It concludes that it is for the magisterium to decide. Note, even with male deacons, the local bishop decides whether or not to have them. If once the church chose the first deacons, it can do so again.
The restoration of the permanent male diaconate is said to have arisen from the concentration camps of Germany in the World War II. Male prisoners sought for some way to overcome the divide in the church between the sacred and the secular, in which the daily lives of people ‘in the world’ might be brought more directly into the realm of the church’ s ministry and mission. A diaconate of men, living in ‘the world’, married perhaps, engaged in business, labour, and any other ‘secular’ pursuits- yet visibly part of the ‘ordained’ might be a way to bridge this ‘gap’- to the benefit of both ‘realms’. Such an ‘inclusion would serve both ‘clergy’ and laity’.
Whether or not such an inclusion in regard to women will come to pass- or even if it should, is hard to say. Some feminist writers say the entire institution must be done away with. But is there a path somewhere between the extremes of ‘hierarchy’ and ‘anarchy’ that might be pursued, some ‘wedge’ made? It will be interesting to see what the new group will propose, or what will be the basis for their proposals.
The history, though scattered, seems rather to lean in the direction of women deacons; the theology will have to be dealt with- as regards orders generally. This becomes a significant question in ecumenical relations, given that most mainline Christian churches ordain women, even bishops.
Many of the arguments for what women could and could not do in the past were based on the ‘natural’ inferiority and the subordinate position of women in society- and in the church. The feminist movement of our own time has ‘put paid’ to much of what has been offered in the past as the reason for the inferior position of women in society and in the church. I think (hope!) we are beyond concepts of ritual impurity, and hopefully beyond notions of the inferiority of women. But whether or not that translates into ‘equality’, I’m not so sure. The Vatican’s teachings on the ‘complementarity’ of the sexes, of the distinct ‘feminine genius’ of women –while appreciated- is nonetheless challenged by contemporary writers as still retaining an ‘inequality’ or requiring a ‘distinct place and role’ for women- as well as for men, and for failing to re-vision if you will the fullness of woman’s humanity… It can put women (and men) in a kind of one dimensional perception/ ideation with defined roles and expectations. The much larger question of sex, sexual orientation and gender will have to be addressed at some point in the Catholic Church. Women as deacons may be only a kind of ‘touchstone’ for questioning and shifting some previous perceptions which disallowed ordination based on an understanding of woman that would not be accepted today.
The subordination of women, patriarchy, is seen as most basic in all analysis of oppression, whether racial, economic, social, or political. Women bear the burden of greatest inequality- from family to the nation state…(recently a lead article on the front page of the 2nd section in the Sunday Independent by the head of the ANC Women’s league decried patriarchy in South Africa!)
In this WOMEN’S MONTH and in this place where daily we read in the media of the oppression or abuse of women, would a woman –vested as deacon, perhaps preaching – in our Sunday Eucharist speak anything to us? Would it symbolize anything of the regard and respect which should accrue to all women? Would it ‘deflate’ the privileged position of the ordained male cleric?
The diaconate, of course, functions on two levels, at the level of symbol (as ‘at the altar’ in our liturgical rites) but also at the level of practice (the ministry of service in the church and in the world). The first (ritual enacted) is symbolic of the second (service rendered). The deacon is the link between the served and the one serving. Deacons read the Good News, lead the intercessions (based on their knowledge of the needs within the community), receive the gifts, set the table and serve the meal. In this they represent in the church’s worship the needs of those they serve. In serving others we are united to them, and bring them with us to worship, as their representatives. The priest and bishop cannot know all the needs of people. It is the deacon’s task to make those needs known.
Zagano speaks of world history and church history converging. That seems to me to offer some hope. While patriarchy is the key oppressive ‘structure’ in the world, nonetheless, the growing awareness/ recognition of it, & need to ‘overcome it’ should give hope even to the Catholic Church.
Ordaining women as deacons would give woman a role that is: formal, public, acknowledged, professional, designated, ritually instituted, permanent, and sharing governance and jurisdiction in a specific relation to the bishop. Why deny the Church this grace and charism?
Sr. Mary Malone, on the newly appointed commission and the first woman ever to head a pontifical university has said ‘Ordained priesthood should not be the only condition to guarantee a significant role to women…on the other hand ‘ministry’ guarantees forms of power precluded from others.’
Imagine that if at the next world televised papal Mass (hopefully not that of the funeral of Francis!), instead of seeing hundreds and hundreds of male cardinals, bishops, priests and deacons surrounding the altar, there were also some women. Could it shift, ever so subtly, the very image of women in the church? Could it shift the very image of God?
Lumen Gentium #29 ‘At the lower level of the clergy are the deacons who receive the imposition of hands not unto priesthood but unto service. For strengthened by sacramental grace they are dedicated to the people of God, in conjunction with the bishop and his body of priests, in service of the liturgy, of the word, and works of charity.’
Pau VI, Ad Pascendum (establishing the permanent diaconate): ‘The deacon is at the disposal of the bishop in order that s/he may serve the whole people of God and take care of the sick and the poor; s/he is rightly called ‘one who shows love for orphans, for the devout and for the widowed, one who is fervent in spirit, one who shows love for what is good. Furthermore, s/he is entrusted with the mission of taking the holy Eucharist to the sick confined in their homes, of conferring Baptism, and or attending to preaching the Word of God in accordance with the express will of the bishop’ (inclusively altered).
Bradshaw, Paul F. 1990. Ordination Rites of the Ancient Churches of East and West. New York: Pueblo Publishing.
Faggioli, Massimo 2016. Questions of Inclusion. The Tablet, 13 August 2016, p. 8-9.
Ferrone, Rita. 2016. Saint Phoebe, Pray for Us. Will the church get Women Deacons? Commonweal July 8, 2016, p. 7.
Hünermann, Peter 1975. Conclusions Regarding the Female Diaconate. Theological Studies 36 (#2), 325-333. Also in Zagano, Phyllis 2016. Women Deacons? Essays with Answers. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press.
Karras, Valerie A. Female Deacons in the Byzantine Church. Church History 73, #2 (June), 272-316.
Ludlow, Morwenna 2009. Review of Madigan, Kevin and Osiek, Carolyn Ordained Women in the Early Church. A Documentary History. New Blackfriars 90, #1025 (January), 131-135.
Macy, Gary, William Ditewig andPhyllis Zagano 2011. Women Deacons. Past, Present, Future. New York: Paulist.
Manson, Jamie 2016. Stop shaming Women for Seeking Equal Power in the Church. National Catholic Reporter. Aug 17, 2016.
Moon, Hellena 2008. Womenpriests: Radical Change or More of the Same. Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion. 24, #2, 115-134.
Osiek, Carolyn 2002. Review of Ute E. Eisen, Women Office Holders in Early Christianity: Epigraphical and Literary Studies. Catholic Biblical Quarterly 64, #3 (July), 571-2.
Regula, Teva 2008. Restoring the Diaconate to Women. Orthodox Peace Fellowship, website.
Tanner, Norman 2008. Review of Macy, Gary The Hidden history of Women’s Ordination. Female Clergy in the Medieval West. Gregorianum 89, #3, 671-2.
Zagano, Phyllis 2003a. Catholic Women Deacons. America February 17, 2003.
Zagano, Phyllis 2003b. Women Deacons: The Fears of Rome. The Furrow 54, #9 (September), 478-480.
Zagano, Phyllis 2009 Deacons in the Irish Church- Male and Female. The Furrow, 60, #4, 201-205
Zagano, Phyllis 2012a. Women in Ministry. Emerging Question about the Diaconate. New York: Paulist Press.
Zagano, Phyllis 2012b. A woman on the altar: Can the church ordain women deacons? U.S. Catholic October 19, 2012.
Zagano, Phyllis 2013. The Dangerous ‘Deaconess’ Discussion. National Catholic Reporter. June 5, 2013.
Zagano, Phyllis (ed.) 2016. Women Deacons? Essays with Answers. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press.
Dr Judy Coyle is currently Acting Head of Theology & Senior Lecturer at St Augustine College, where she has lecturedin Liturgy and Spirituality since 2006. She was previously on the academic staff of Unisa and St. Joseph’s Theological Institute, Cedara, KZN. She holds an MA in Liturgical Studies from the University of Notre Dame, Indiana, USA, and a D Th in Christian Spirituality from UNISA. Her current research focuses on the interpretation of Vatican II.
WE ARE ALL CHURCH – SOUTH AFRICA (WAACSA)is a movement of Catholics in South Africa who are committed to the renewal of the Church initiated by the Second Vatican Council.
DOES GOD INTERVENE IN OUR LIVES?
NIODA: An Overview and a Personal Perspective by Brian Jacoby
In 1979 Pope John Paul II called for theologians to collaborate with scientists and philosophers, to reconcile the apparent difference between theology and science. This has resulted in leading-edge thinking in the realm of cosmology and theology. Exciting stuff, bringing together latest research in astrophysics, genetics, neuroscience, chaos and complexity theory, the concept of emergence, and a new or at least a different understanding of God.
We often say that God is in control. But in the light of our human experience, is God actually in control? “God is not going to rescue us. But God is present. So be present to God being present to us. If my being in the world changes, then the world changes. This is the only way God intervenes.” (Quote from one of our retreat directors)
- NIODA: What is it?
NIODA is not an organisation like FND, ABSA, SARS.
NIODA is an acronym for Non-Interventionist Objective Divine Activity.
- God does not intervene in the universe.
- Yet the world is really changed. God makes an objective difference.
It is way of thinking about God and science.
NIODA is a philosophical and theological interpretationof science.It looks at existing scientific theories to find a wayof allowing for divine acts without violating or suspendingthe laws of nature.
Over the past 40 years scientists began asking fundamental questions:
- Why does the universe exist at all?
- How did humanity emerge on this pale blue dot?
- Can something really come from nothing?
- Why is the universe “fine-tuned”?
- Is human consciousness the “aim” of evolution?
- Is mind a fundamental property of matter?
- Is “emergence” a concept belonging to science or faith?
Science was raising questions that science could not answer.
It also was becoming increasingly clear to thinking Christians that,as the God-in-gaps were filled,God does not intervene or interfere with the laws of physics.
Clearly these questions overlap with philosophy and theology. Some theologians realised that science was doing the task of theology by asking questions like these. The church was being challenged by science.
In 1979 Pope John Paull II called for “fruitful concord between science and faith, between the Church and the world.”
During the early 1980s astrophysicist Dr George Coyne SJ, Director of the Vatican Observatory in Castel Gandolfo, Italy, set up task teams of scientistsand theologians to study therelationship between science and religion, leading to the first major international conference in 1987. Its title was: “Physics, Philosophy, and Theology: A Common Quest for Understanding”.
In 1988 Pope John Paul II officially appointed Coyne to escalate the Catholic Church’s investigation into the relationship between Science and Religion.
Meantime, in 1981,Robert John Russell, a particle physicist and theologian, founded the Centre for Theology and the Natural Sciences (CTNS) in California. This venture was also designed to close the gap between science and theology. It was supported by many theology schools, both Protestant and Catholic.
George Coyne and Bob Russell got together to establish a collaboration between the Vatican Observatory (VO) team and the CTNS team. So the VO/CTNS project was born.
3. VO/CTNS COLLABORATION
Between 1988 and 2005, Coyne and Russellled the new research programinvolving science,philosophy and theology ondivine actionleading to NIODA.
The KEY QUESTIONS investigated were:
Assuming that science must be taken seriously and that God is creator:
- HOW MIGHT GOD ACT WITHIN THE LAWS OF NATURE WITHOUT INTERVENING?
- HOW DOES GOD INTERVENE IN HUMAN AFFAIRS?
In the following decade, between 1991-2001, a series of international conferences were held, in which a variety of world experts investigated and discussed the topic: “Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action.”
Dozens of workshops and discussions took place, and hundreds of papers were delivered. Over the course of the 1990s the proceedings were published in FIVE VOLUMES:
1. Quantum Cosmology and the Laws of Nature (1993)
2. Chaos and complexity (1996)
3. Evolutionary and Molecular biology (1998)
4. Neuroscience and the person (1999)
5. Quantum Mechanics (2002)
Summary of individual papers obtainable at: www.ctns.org/books
In 2002, a book of another set of collected papers was published, entitled: “Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action: Twenty years of Challenge and Progress”.
In 2007 the collected papers of the 2005 conference were published under the title: of “Physics and Cosmology: Scientific perspectives on the problem of natural evil”.
George Ellis Denis Edwards John Polkinghorne Arthur Peacocke
John Haught Nancey Murphy Ian Barbour Noam Chomsky
George Coyne Bill Stoeger Keith Ward Robert Russell
Bottom line: NIODA is based on wise, intelligent and responsible scholars.
4. OUTCOME OF THE VO/CTNS RESEARCH: NIODA
God acts in a non-interventionist fashion in the universe in two ways:
General divine activity (GDA): God the primary cause of existence, creation ex nihilo, on-going creation. Total dependence of God for the existence of the universe.
Special divine activity (SDA): God interacts with us humans (Special Providence)
Does God intervene in the physical universe?
- As creator, God constructed the laws of physics.
- God’s creative activity underpins/supports the on-going working of the universe.
- God does not interfere with physical laws.
- Consensus among NIODA scholars that this is so.
If I jump off a cliff, and pray for God to save me,God will not switch off law of gravitation.
Concept of GDA is consistent with this.God does not intervene in the physical universe.
Special divine activity SDA posed greater problems. Why?In the human realm even special divine intervention through miracles, prayer, Incarnation seems to violate/suspend laws of nature. Also, how is free will possible if it depends on God? So how do we explain these?
Let’s focus on the human aspect:
The modern notion of miracles as suspension of laws ofnature (eg Fatima & Sun) is at variance with the biblical.Biblical (and most everyday) miracles were seen assigns of God’s presence here and now. Miracles do happen, but we must use the term in the biblical sense.
We pray for rain. God does not change the lawsof physics governing rain. So why pray?Prayer changes us, creates solidarity, a sense of shared fight against a common problem.This communal support is empowering.Praying is good, but does it get God to intervene?
The VO/CTNS scholars felt GDA explained God’s on-going creation in physical universe.However it did not explain miracles, prayer andthe Incarnation.God intervened in a special way with humans.So they introduced the notion of Special Divine Activity (SDA).
Is SDA necessary?Regarding divine intervention in human domain:God is a causal presence throughout the universe.That is, the universe is saturated with divine activity. God holds everything and everyone.Surely general divine activity is enough?The central point to keep in mind is: God is present deep down things.
The NIODA research looked at six main approaches:
- Thomistic philosophy (Coyne, Stoeger, Edwards)
- Process theology (Barbour)
- Whole-part causality (Peacocke)
- Mind-body problem (Murphy, Ellis, Chomsky, Stoeger)
- Chaos theory (Polkinghorne)
- Top-down/bottom-up causality (Ellis, Murphy)
All involve the notion of “causality” in some way.
Each is worth looking at. In what follows we’ll mainly follow the Thomistic approach, mainly because this is our Catholic tradition. Augustine Shutte based his approach on this.
- WHAT DOES A NIODA WORLD LOOK LIKE?
The concept of divine activity is very abstract. So let me try to make it more concrete.
5.1 Does God intervene in our lives?
First of all, picture a world with God. Even if there is a God, then God is hidden. So everything looks normal, ordinary. Life goes on. We live as if God is not there.
Now picture a world without God. Is there any difference?
So, in a way, a world with God looks the same as an atheist world. Both the believer and the atheist see the same picture.
“The Lord was in this place, and I did not know it.” (Gen 28:16)
Bonhoeffer said in his Letters:
“We have to live in the world etsi deus non daretur – even if God is not ‘there’. … God is teaching us that we must live as people who can get along very well without him.”
“It is becoming evident that everything gets along without ‘God’, and just as well as before.”
Now let’s look a little deeper. In both the world of science and in our everyday lives, there are causes and effects. I push my car, and it moves. I make a free choice, and it changes the world. It is clear that there are bottom-up and top-down causes. Knowing that these causes exist doesn’t affect what our world looks like. We can’t see causes, only effects. We simply discern a depth in reality.
Getting along as if there is no God:
God is the primary cause of everything. Everything and everyone is ontologically dependent on God. (Primary cause is not a temporal concept; it refers to ontological dependence.) All other causes are secondary: the causes in science and everyday human life. Even Jesus is considered to be a secondary cause.
We use ‘cause’ analogically of God. Even in everyday life, cause is hidden: we know only the effects. There is a hidden depth in reality. Ultimately, God is the Depth of Reality.
No common measure
We have to speak analogically about God, because God belongs to a completely different order of reality. There is no common measure between creator and creature. To say that God is the primary cause of everything does not imply that the creator is here and the creature there. If you add creator plus creature you do not get two items, nor do you get one. God as primary cause as to creature is as singer to song, or novelist to novel. Singer and song are one, yet two. The two are inextricably intertwined, intimately present. There is a chasm between creator and creature. Yet a closeness.
If I am kind to someone, this is an act of transcendence.It is therefore fully God’s act, yet fully mine. Yet 1+1 ≠ 2. A human mystery.
So where should we look to find God, divine activity? Perhaps in nature? More likely, in human beings. In particular, in human freedom. Why?
Centrality of human freedom
Although God is the primary cause even of my free will, my free acts are entirely my own. This is very mysterious, the human paradox. A human analogy may help us understand. Each of us grows as a human being through the interactions with others. In any relationship, the more we allow another into our lives in a mutual relationship, the more human we become. The paradox is, the more dependent we are on others in a good way, the more we are ourselves. If I grow under the kindness of another, this is an act of transcendence. I go beyond myself. It is an act where divinity (love) shines through. It is God-like.
And here’s the thing:
THE MORE WE LET GO OF OUR OWN FREEDOM, AND TRUST IN GOD, THE MORE HUMAN AND GOD-LIKE WE BECOME.
“Jesus was radically free. He was willing to die.” (Nolan)
Jesus challenged us to do the same.
Augustine Shutte summarises this well:
“The more God causes what we do, the more our acts are our own.This understanding of God’s absolute transcendence … is bestexpressed in the distinction between primary and secondary causality whereby God is seen as the primary cause of all that happens, our own free acts included. Secondary causality is that of everythingelse, the causality studied by science and grasped by common sense.We are able to see this more clearly now than at any previous period in history.”
A word of caution: Do we not often find ourselves, when speaking about Godacting in salvation history, and in the life of Jesus, and of the Church, falling into the trap of thinking of God as acting as a secondary cause? Isn’t this mythology?Don’t we sometimes place Jesus with God as the primary cause?
So the distinction between primary and secondary causality is important.
- Primary cause: Divine activity
- Secondary cause: Everything else. Including Jesus, according to the VO/CTNS.
Jesus acted as a secondary cause.
In Augustine Shutte’s words:
“We are totally dependent on God.The NIODA research helps us understand this.”
“There is never any intervention. God … is wholly presentin world processes and human history all the time.”
- God holds my free will in existence, yet my free acts are mine alone.
- God respects my free will.
- God does not interfere or intervene in the world of human freedom.
- My free acts change the world.
Conclusion: God does not intervene in our lives.
5.2 Does Jesus intervene in our lives?
Christians say:The Incarnation is the intervention of God in human affairs. But God does not intervene. Is this not a contradiction?
Two ways on understanding Incarnation:
- A God-Man coming from heaven to earth like a spaceman. (Interventionist action)
- An ordinary human being who is very close to God telling us about God’s love and inviting us to respond. (Non-interventionist)
So we must focus on the humanity of Jesus.
To seek an answer, I believe we need to take a serious look at historical Jesus. The quest for the historical Jesus, especially over past 40 years, is based on serious science. We have seen that NIODA takes science seriously. Recent archaeology, historical reconstruction, literary criticism has enabled top scholars to reconstruct a picture of the world in which Jesus lived. Never before have we known so much about 1st century CE.
What did the world of Jesus look like? (1st century CE)
- It was an advanced agrarian society
- Peasants were exploited
- Triple taxation: Roman, Herodian, Temple
- Seething resentment against colonial oppression and priestly collaboration; continual conflict
- Jesus the Jew, a prophet, mystic, social reformer
- Insight that upside-down values in village communitiesmight be a way of confronting/resisting authorities.
- Covenant renewal; mutuality; solidarity: Meals together
- This was how God intervenes to build the kingdom.
Ordinary life lived extraordinarily. God is present in the world, but not intervening
Important here to rethink accepted views:
- Is Jesus God?
- Is Jesus a secondary cause?
- Has Jesus changed our understanding of divinity?
“Jesus’ human uniqueness consists in his positionand special role in salvation history, rather thansupernatural powers.” (Rahner)
NIODA tries to banish supernatural view of Jesus. This invites us to a refreshingly new view of Jesus which is perhaps more meaningful, even ‘divine’?
If Jesus is not God, does he bring a new notion of divine activity?We could say, a new notion of non-interventionistdivine activity.
“To say that Jesus is divine does not change our understanding of Jesus; it changes our understanding of divinity.” (Nolan)
If Jesus is not God, then is he an expression of God, does he makes God accessible? Jesus brings a new notion of divine activity, perhaps even a new notion of non-interventionist divine activity.
“To say that Jesus is divine does not change our understanding of Jesus; it changes our understanding of divinity.” (Nolan)
Again Augustine Shutte sums this up nicely:
“How are we to understand the doctrine of the Incarnation within the framework of NIODA?
Rahner again is helpful on two points. The first is his stress on the fact that Jesus was and remains a normal human person, distinct from God. …
The second is his insistence that the effect of the ‘hypostatic union’ of God and Jesus is identical in kind with that of grace in anyone.” [If Jesus is divine, so are we.]
In other words, Jesus is a Jewish man, saturated inJewish tradition of the prophets: liberation, justice.He was there at right place and time in history.
As a mystic he had a unique insight that each of us couldhave the same close relationship with God (Abba)that he had. (“I and the Father are one.”)Same in kind, but different in degree.So God is in each of us in a deeply intimate way.
So what does the non-interventionist world of Jesuslook like?Very ordinary. Yet extraordinary.
Transcendence shone through the topsy-turvyvalues of the reign of God: Love enemy; go extra mile; give one’s life for friend; turn the other cheek.God leaves us to help co-create this world.
Recall that every time I choose to perform a creative free act, I am doing something transcendent. I go beyond myself.Why?Because God needs to be there as well.All creative human free acts are transcendent. If I can help another person to grow as a person, thenthis is an act of transcendence. Transcendence (divine activity) resides in my free acts.
Jesus had total trust and confidence that God wasalready present encouraging people to transform themselves in order to transform society.“The reign of God would thus not come down from heaven; it would rise from below.” (Nolan) Intervention comes from grass roots level.
And that is the point.
The sheer humanity of Jesus helps understand non-interventionist divine action.Jesus took the Jewish prophetic tradition seriously. He proclaimed the reign of God in an innovative way: transformation of self in order to transform the world.He envisaged an alternative society that will live by a codeof mutuality.We are co-creators of this radically human new way.
This is how God intervenes.
6. CONCLUSION: CATHEDRALS and CONSCIOUSNESS
In the past we found God in cathedrals, whereas today we find God in human consciousness.
One can discern the presence of God in nature, and also in truth, goodness, beauty, music. However, the main place we find God is within ourselves, in our human consciousness and human freedom. We must not look for God anywhere else than in us.
“Human freedom is the experience of transcendence inourselves. In the process of choosing and acting weexperience the creative act of God in action.” (Shutte)
God holds my free will in existence, but refrains from making my free decisions for me. The more God holds me, the more free I become. Yet at the end of the day, I and I alone am responsible for how I interact with and intervene in my world. God does not intervene.
God not only creates but also self-communicates.God self-communicates in a non-intrusive way.God is present, listens, but does not change anything.God is like a good counsellor.God waits for us to change ourselves.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?
- We have to live without the thought of divine intervention.
- We are on our own.
- God relies on us to intervene and change the world.
- It is up to us, with trust in God.
- Faith can move mountains. (Jesus: Your faith has healed you …)
So does God intervene in our lives?
I suspect the answer is no, God does not intervene. God is intimately present, but God leaves it to us to change the world. We have to take responsibility for the world. In doing so, love unexpectedly emerges from within the human situation. God is present.
Primo Levi was an Italian chemistand Alpine mountaineer. He was also a Jew. In 1944 he was sent to Auschwitz.He survived.He published The Periodic Table in 1976.
Here is an observation he made about thedark days of fascist Europe:
“But where were the prophets? Where was God? He who dictated the Law to Moses, and inspired the liberators Ezra and Nehemia, no longer inspired anyone; the sky above us was silent and empty: he allowed the Polish ghettos to be exterminated, and slowly, confusedly, the idea was making headway in us that we were alone, that we had no allies to count on, nether on earth nor in heaven, that we would have to find in ourselves the strength to resist.” p.43
Prof Geza Vermes, the Oxford Jesus scholar,
- Doctorate in NT studies, on Dead Sea Scrolls.
- Translated parts of Dead Sea Scrolls
- 1967: appointed Prof of Jewish Studies at Oxford.
- Became an internationally acclaimed “Jesus scholar”
- 1973: Published “Jesus the Jew”
- Wrote many books on the historical Jesus
In the Epilogue of The Changing Face of Jesus, he wrote a parable:
“After fifty years of research on Jesus,I dreamed that Jesus staged a return.In a huge modern football stadium he addressed thousands of Jews, Christians, and men and women of all faiths or none.
To the Jews he said: “I am one of you. I am a Jew.”
To the Christians he said:
“… rely more on yourselves, on your own insights – you may call it the voice of the holy spirit – on your strength and goodness. You’ve been told to expect everything from me. I say, you must save yourselves. Don’t forget that the Kingdom of God is always at hand. Get on with it at once. You can do it, on your own, as you are children of our heavenly Father who alone is God, blessed forever. You may carry on with your rites, customs and prayers, but be careful not to take the symbol for reality. … “
(Geza Vermes: The Changing Face of Jesus, p.270)
Put in another way:
“Pray as if God will take care of it all; act as if all is up to you.” (Ignatius of Loyola)
SO WE COME FULL CIRCLE:
God is not going to rescue us. But God is present to us.If my being in the world changes, then the world changes.This is the only way God intervenes.
A COMFORTING THEORY
Did you notice a convergence between NIODA and Jesus and human freedom?
The NIODA research teaches us that God is always intimately close, present.
Jesus taught the same: God, Abba, is here with us in the world.Trust in this constant presence gives us hope in life and confidence in facing death.
- Emmanuel: God-with-us: Real presence.
- Jesus: “Don’t be afraid.” “Trust in God…” “Your faith has …”
- All will be well.
- “You are there with your crook and your staff;with these you give me comfort.” Ps23
- “You are all around me on every side …It is beyond my understanding …
Where could I get away from your presence?” Ps 139
I seriously believe this, and find it very comforting.
But listen to Lucy and Charlie Brown:
Some may not be comforted by NIODA. We are free to disagree with NIODA, but we risk becoming schizophrenic again: science vs religion.
So why all the philosophical NIODA research? We have to. Faith seeking understanding. And to free us from superstition. We do not have to look far to see how superstition riddles many religions, leading not only to a ‘post-truth’ age, but also to fundamentalism.
Also, it does no harm to think deeply and become aware of Mystery.
“In the point of rest at the center of our being, we encounter a world where all things are at rest in the same way. Then a tree becomes a mystery, a cloud a revelation, each person a cosmos of whose riches we can only catch glimpses. The life of simplicity is simple, but it opens to us a book in which we never get beyond the first syllable.”
― Dag Hammarskjöld, Markings
References and extra reading
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich: 1953, Letters and Papers from Prison, Fontana
Borg, Marcus: 1994, Meeting Jesus again for the first time, Harper, San Francisco
Chomsky, Noam: 2014, Science, Mind, and the Limits of Human Understanding, VO Publ
Crossan, John Dominic: 1993, The Historical Jesus: Life of a Mediterranean Jewish peasant
2000, A Long Way from Tipperary, Harper, San Francisco
Haught, John: 2007, Christianity and Science, Orbis, Books, Maryknoll, New York
Horseley, Richard: 2013, The Prophet Jesus and the Renewal of Israel.
Levi, Primo: 1975, The Periodic Table, Penguin
Murphy N & Ellis G, 1996, On the Moral Nature of the Universe, Fortress Press, Minneapolis
Murphy; Russell; Stoeger (Ed): 2005, Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action, Vatican Obs Publ
Murphy; Russell; Stoeger (Ed): 2005, Physics and Cosmology, Vatican Obs Publ
Nolan, Albert: 1976, Jesus before Christianity, David Philip Publ, SA
2006, Jesus Today, Double Storey
Shutte Augustine (Ed), 2006, The Quest for Humanity in Science and Religion, Cluster Publications
Shutte, Augustine: Unpublished essays: NIODA Special; The Reality of God; inter alia.
Stoeger, William: Selected papers from VO/CTNS
The mind-brain problem, the laws of nature, and constitutive relationships;
Contemporary physics and the ontological status of the laws of nature;
The immanent directionality of the evolutionary process and its relationship to teleology
Vermes, Geza: 1962 and 1997, The Dead Sea Scrolls (English translation), Penguin
1973, Jesus the Jew
2009, Searching for the Real Jesus, SCM
2003, The Authentic Gospel of Jesus, Penguin
2000, The Changing Face of Jesus, Penguin
Robert Russell talk on NIODA on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=Robert+Russell+-+Does+%E2%80%98the+God+Who+Acts%E2%80%99+Really+Act
Stephen Hawking and Black Holes: Where does God fit in? by Brian Jacoby
The story of Stephen Hawking’s life is an edifying one of great courage, despair, sacrificial love and redemption. This is reflected in the 2014 film of his life: The Theory of Everything.
Stephen Hawking was born in 1942 and died earlier this year (2018) at the age of 76. In 1959, at the age of 17, he began a Bachelor degree in physics and chemistry at Oxford. He graduated with a mediocre pass in 1962. Later in the same year, he undertook graduate work as a doctoral student at Cambridge. Inspired by Roger Penrose’s work on a singularity at the centre of a black hole, Hawking applied this to the whole universe. He graduated with a Ph.D in 1966 at age 24.
In the light of his thesis on black holes, Hawking was given a specially-created fellowship at Cambridge.
In 1963, during his doctoral studies at Cambridge, Hawking was diagnosed with motor neurone disease, and was given two years to live. He was only 21. He fell into a severe depression. Just before the diagnosis, he had been going out with his girl-friend, Jane Wilde. They decided to continue the relationship and were married in 1965. His new wife Jane was a strong support to Stephen as the disease progressed.
In the years that followed, they had a son (1967), a daughter (1970), and another son (1979).
In 1970 he put forward his ground-breaking theory about the Big Bang and time.
In 1974 Hawking was visiting-professor at Caltech in Pasadena, California, where he and Jane and children spent a happy year. Jane had arranged for a permanent carer for Stephen. She was studying for her Ph.D, but her work as secretary for her husband was time-consuming. During this year Stephen collaborated with Kip Thorne, the well-known expert on gravity and cosmology.
Back in Cambridge in late 1974 he published his famous theory that black holes give off weak radiation called “Hawking radiation”.
In 1975 he resumed professorship at Cambridge, and was appointed Lucasian Professor of Mathematics in 1979.
In 1985, during a visit to CERN in Geneva, Hawking contracted pneumonia. To survive he underwent a tracheotomy, thereby losing what little voice communication he still had. Thereafter he used a voice synthesiser to talk.
In 1988 he published his first famous popular book: A Brief History of Time.
Jane was feeling the stress, not only of being married to a celebrity, but also the invasion of her privacy by a succession of carers in her home. In the early 1980s she had an affair with a man in her church choir. This placed pressure on Hawking’s marriage. Then, in the late 1980’s, Hawking fell in love with his new carer, Elaine Mason. She was a forceful character. In 1995 he and Jane divorced, and he married Elaine. At first it was a happy relationship, but sadly it allegedly degenerated into an abusive one. In 2006 he and Elaine divorced.
In the years that followed, Stephen restored the relationship with Jane and his children and grandchildren.
In 2009 Hawking retired from the position as Lucasian Professor of Mathematics.
Hawking was by all accounts a demanding and impatient man. I once met one of his carers who told me that he did not suffer fools gladly. However, she said, the impersonal tone of his voice-synthesiser can be deceiving. We should be careful not to judge his frequent discussions about God and atheism as the statements of a frustrated, cranky, confined man. After all, he did experience many of the emotions we all experience: fear, depression, joy, happiness, love, courage.
Hawking once described himself as a normal human being with all the usual emotions, desires and dreams. He had a wonderful fun-filled sense of humour, which is apparent in his lectures and TV science shows. He said: “I am a dreamer. In my mind I am free.”
Hawking’s main area of interest was black holes. So let’s go there now.
2. Black holes
Black holes are the strangest, most unimaginable objects in our universe. They are invisible, they warp space, twist time and squeeze matter. They lie at the centre of every galaxy, including our own. They shape the universe, and challenge us to ask what is real and true. They are looming mysteries and hold the secrets of the universe. They are astonishing and awesome, and, if we look with new eyes, bring us into the very presence of God.
So what are black holes?
A black hole is the remnant of an exploded star. When a star runs out of fuel, the huge gravity of the star causes it to implode. The left-over matter is compressed into a relatively small chunk which is very, very dense and compacted. So all the gravitational force it used to have as a star is now concentrated in a tiny central body.
The gravitational field around this body is so enormous that it not only pulls all nearby objects into it, but it also drags the light that it emits down again. So light itself can never escape from its pull. This is why it was called a black hole.
Black holes are so heavy that they warp the fabric of space-time. A good way of thinking about this is to imagine a heavy bowling ball on a trampoline. The rubber is dented. If I roll a marble towards it, the marble will spiral in.
The dense core of a black hole is called a singularity. Its huge gravity attracts everything around it. If a spacecraft comes near a black hole it will be pulled towards it. However, if it is still outside an imaginary boundary, it can still escape. The event horizon is the invisible boundary inside of which there is no escape. It is the point of no return.
If an astronaut crosses the event horizon she will not even notice it. However, as she is dragged closer to the singularity, falling feet-first, her feet, being closer, will experience greater force than her head, so she will be stretched. (Spaghetti Effect).
More importantly, time will slow down for her (relative to an observer at a safe point outside the event horizon). If you are near any massive object which exerts big gravity, times slows down. This is not a subjective thing in your mind, but a real, physical slowing of time. (For example, the satellites of our GPS system.) So time dilation is very real! Returning to our astronaut, time slows down. The black hole is warping time. When she hits the singularity, time vanishes. There is no time. Indeed, time emerges from the black hole.
Are black holes real? Yes. Einstein predicted their existence in 1915 in his General Relativity theory. In 1964 the first black hole, a star in the constellation Cygnus, was detected by indirect methods, abnormally high bursts of X-rays. The only way to find black holes is to use indirect methods, such as nearby X-rays, and the ways neighbouring stars move. If stars are moving faster than they ought to be around some apparently empty piece of space, there must be some object around which they are orbiting. Since 1964 tens of thousands of black holes have been found. Today we know there is a super-big black hole at the centre of every galaxy, including our own Milky Way galaxy. And there are a hundred billion galaxies.
Because they warp space-time, black holes are a source of immense energy. It is this energy that creates and drives the galaxy surrounding it. Black holes are the engines of the universe. Our very existence here and now depends on the work of black holes.
3. Hawking the scientist
In 1970, expanding on his doctoral research, Hawking realised that, if he reversed the idea of an expanding universe, then the whole universe would go back to the Big Bang event. At this point, everything, the entire mass of the universe, would be condensed into a tiny point. In other words, it would be a black hole! Therefore time would not exist. So it would be meaningless to ask what existed before the Big Bang. Time began at the Big Bang.
In 1974, working with Roger Penrose, Professor Hawking had another brilliant idea. If a singularity was a tiny point, then it should have quantum effects.
So he began working on the quantum effects of the tiny singularity. He discovered these operating at the event horizon. The result of his theory was that black holes are not entirely black. They emit a faint radiation, which came to be called “Hawking radiation”.
4. Hawking and God
Hawking was not afraid of publicly stating his belief that there was no need for God. He maintained that the universe is self-contained and self-creating. The universe just is. There is no need for God to have created it. He said: “There is no time before the Big Bang. There is no ‘before’ the Big Bang. We have found something which does not have a cause, because there was no time for a cause to exist in. For me, this means there is no possibility of a creator, for there is no time for a creator to have existed.”
So how did this process get triggered in the first place? What could cause the spontaneous appearance of the universe? How can something come from nothing? In our daily lives, things don’t suddenly appear! Hawking answers: “If we go down into the sub-atomic world of quantum events, particles can and do pop into and out of existence, at least for a short while. Tiny particles appear and disappear. The universe was once such a very tiny particle. So … the universe itself could have simply popped into existence without violating the known laws of nature.”
“If we do discover a theory of everything … it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason—for then we would truly know the mind of God.”
Many people were taken aback by the latter. I myself think Hawking was applauding the successes of human scientific reasoning. As a cultural achievement, Big Bang theory is equal to the works of Shakespeare, Beethoven or Aristotle.
Some criticisms of Hawking:
I want to draw your attention to a few shortcomings of Hawking:
(1) Quantum “out of nothing” is not the same as theological creation ex nihilo.
Popping into existence from the vacuum energy of quantum fields assumes that empty space-time is in fact energy. In other words, the virtual particle pops into existence from a pre-existing reality, not out of nothing.
(2) God as an explanation:
Hawking regards God as a hypothesis or an explanation. “We are each free to believe what we want. And that’s my view that the simplest explanation is, there is no God. No one created the universe and no one directs our fate.” We all believe that God is far more than a mere explanation.
(3) God a valid object for science:
“Asking if God exists is a valid question for science.” Hawking is wrong. It is not a valid question for science. It goes well beyond scientific method. Again, Hawking is thinking of God as an object, a thing to be investigated. God is not an object. God is not just another force in the universe, alongside gravity or electricity.Hawking clearly lacked a philosophical background.
(4) God created (past tense):
Hawking has the naïve understanding of the creation story: “In the beginning God created.” True, but he is unaware of current theology of creation as an on-going process.
I respectfully hope that I am assessing the mind of Stephen Hawking correctly.
Vatican astronomer, Jesuit Guy Consolmagno, says that “the ‘god’ that Stephen Hawking doesn’t believe in is one I don’t believe in either.” I humbly agree.
5. Our modern scientific world-view: “Nothing-but”
The trouble with physicists like Stephen Hawking (and Sean Carroll and others) is that they are adamant that, at the deepest level of reality, there is nothing but vibrating waves in a quantum energy field. And they say it so eloquently that it is easy to believe them. However, I think they are tone deaf or something.
Our lives are coloured by our modern scientific worldview.So we easily fall into the trap that there is nothing but evidence-based reasoning. This is known as reductive materialism.We are continually bombarded with the idea that science is the only way of understanding reality. We all know that there are many truths (in poetry, story, love) inaccessible to scientific method. Science has its limits.
The good news is that there is a growing resistance to reductionism in two forms: Mind in matter (Thomas Nagel); and the now widespread concept of emergence.
Mind and Cosmos
In 2012 atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel stunned the academic world with his book Mind and Cosmos. He made the startling statement that there must be ‘something more’ in matter to explain the fact of mind. Materialist evolution is necessary but insufficient to account for the consciousness. While remaining a naturalist (he shunned supernatural realms), Nagel proposed that there must be a seed of mind in everything in the cosmos. I am much persuaded by this view.
Another factor militating against reductive materialism is ‘emergence’. During the past forty years there has been a significant change in science. It has begun to emphasise the notion of “emergence”. For example: “Living organisms emerge from large chemical molecules”. “Mind emerges from neural connections in the brain”. The latest in astrophysics is that space-time (gravity) may emerge from pre-existing multiverse bubbles.
Central to the idea of emergence is that something more emerges from something less. Something radically new emerges from a lower level. The novel emergent structure is not only brand new and more complex, and follows a new set of laws, but it also contains all that went on at the lower level. It has a history.
This current fascination with the concept of emergence among scientists and philosophers is once again injecting a ‘something more’ into the cold universe of reductive materialism. Emergence helps us see with new eyes, and to look more deeply. Maybe there is mind operating at all levels.
6. Discerning ‘something more’ in matter
If there is mind, or ‘something more’, at all levels, how can we discern it?
Let’s examine ourselves as we try to find spirit in a stone; or mind in the cosmos.
Poet G.M. Hopkins wrote: “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.” …
“The real voyage of discovery does not consist in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” So said Marcel Proust.
Hopkins again: “There lives the dearest freshness deep down things.”
For me there are two helpful ways: Depth of reality and sacramental mysticism.
(1) Depth of reality
Theoretical physicists like Hawking are saying that physical reality, at its deepest level, consists of vibrating waves in fields. Let’s look even deeper. This brings us to what theologian Paul Tillich calls the depth of reality.
In his famous essay The Depth of Existence, Tillich explains at length what he means by depth.
When we look at some aspect of our everyday lives with more than our eyes, we say we are trying to discern some meaning in it. We are trying to fathom its depth. We are looking at a deeper level of being. We are exploring its metaphysical source or ground.
“The name of this infinite and inexhaustible depth and ground of all being is God. That depth is what the word God means. And if that word (God) has not much meaning for you, translate it, and speak of the depths of your life, of the source of your being, of your ultimate concerns, of what you take seriously without any reservation. Perhaps, in order to do so, you must forget everything traditional that you have learned about God, perhaps even that word itself. For if you know that God means depth, you know much about God. You cannot then call yourself an atheist or unbeliever. For you cannot think or say: Life has no depth!”
(2) Sacramental Mystic
Fr Karl Rahner once famously said that the Christian of the future will be a mystic or nothing.
So what is a mystic? A mystic is an ordinary person who discerns the presence of God in everyday things and events. The mystic intimately experiences divinity in the world.
And what is a sacrament? In general, a sacrament is some everyday thing that discloses God, brings us to the presence of God. It is an outward sign of inward grace. It communicates God-self, and thus has a transformative power. It changes us and the way we see the world.
Historically, Christian mysticism has taught that, for Christians, the major emphasis of mysticism concerns a spiritual transformation of the ego. It is a path designed to produce more fully realized human persons, transformed persons.
Teilhard de Chardin, the famous priest-scientist, was a mystic. As a geologist and palaeontologist, he discerned a depth in matter, a something more. As a young boy he collected stones and rocks and recalled that he saw something in them that was enduring. Even then, as a boy, he saw them as somehow divine. The world reflected the order, beauty and wonder of God. It was almost as if the universe was God. Teilhard saw spirit in matter; rocks were vibrant with spiritual energy. Teilhard had an intense love of the physical and natural world.
Here are some quotes from Teilhard:
“Matter is filled with spirit.” (Reminds one of E=mc2. Matter-energy equivalence)
“Matter is spirit moving slowly enough to be seen.” (à matter is ‘frozen’energy)
“In the divine milieu, all the elements of the universe touch each other by that which is most inward and ultimate in them.”
Teilhard admits that in his youth he was effectively a materialist and a pantheist. As he matured he found that, the deeper you dig, the more you find. And so, as Teilhard grew as a scientist and a priest, he realised that God was not only in all things, but was other than all things. His overall view was panentheist.
God is right here, in and all around us. But God is completely Other. God is continually creating. There is an enormous immeasurable difference between creator and created. So God is both close and Other. In this sense, all Christians are panentheists.
Teilhard saw the whole universe, and the whole process of cosmic evolution, as being permeated by God. God was everywhere, forever active. The Incarnation lifted matter to a new, higher level of reality. The Cosmic Christ filled the universe.
We live in the divine milieu. The universe is alive with the grandeur of God. To see this, we should look deeply, with new eyes.
Listen to Teilhard: “I am a little too absorbed by science to be able to philosophise much. But the more I look into myself, the more I find myself possessed by the conviction that it is only the science of Christ running through all things, that is to say, true mystical science, that really matters. I let myself get caught up in the game when I geologise.”
What does Teilhard mean by this? I think he is saying that God is present in our work, our play, in everything. Also, his notion of being a mystic is not one of passive contemplation, but rather of active investigation. Doing science is itself a way of experiencing God.
Teilhard loved science. I think that Teilhard believed that “something more” can often be discerned in scientific knowledge itself. Therefore discernment is a constructive action. If we are made in the image and likeness of God, we are called to seek the mind of God in science and other forms of knowledge.
Teilhard was indeed a sacramental mystic.
Note: When Teilhard says there is “spirit” in matter, I do not think he understands “spirit” as a separate entity from “matter”, like water in a sponge. He is not a dualist. Rather he is a monist. There is only one kind of stuff in the universe. “Spirit” as applied to God is a metaphor. This is why he preferred the more non-dualistic notion of divine “milieu”.
Another thinker along these mystical lines is Fr Richard Rohr. As you know, Richard Rohr is the American Franciscan priest who promotes contemplative prayer. One of our modern problems is that we are prone to dualistic thinking. Rohr is distressed by our habit of falling back on dualisms: Us/them; liberal/conservative; black/white; male/female; straight/gay; Christian/Muslim; mind/matter; divine/human. We must try to see beyond these binary views. They build fences. We must build bridges. Maybe there are shades of grey, leading to oneness. Or a continuum. Or at very least, maybe we need to learn to live with ambiguities, accepting that our world is flawed and incomplete.
We have come a long way from Hawking’s black holes.
Yet, have we?
Hawking pointed out that the enormous gravitational force of black holes attracts and draws things together. But if we look with different eyes, we can perhaps see something more going on. Gravity is a creative force. However, it is also violent. God creates in strange ways.
If we see the universe as sacramental, then we need to learn to live with ambiguities. The God who is using the terrifying violence of black holes to create you and me, is the same God as the God of mercy and love.
In the end, it is all about love. As they say: “Love makes the world go round.”
The metaphor of gravitational attraction can be extended. We saw that black holes attract other objects voraciously. Teilhard discerned a kind of love or affinity which draws all things together. Said Teilhard: “Love is the affinity which links and draws together the elements of the world… Love, in fact, is the agent of universal synthesis.”
Here again is Teilhard: “Driven by the forces of love, the fragments of the world seek each other, so that the world may come into being.”
“We are one, after all, you and I, together we suffer, together exist and forever will recreate each other.” We are co-creators of the universe.
The metaphor is simple and clear for us humans. We need to draw together, in spite of all differences. We ought to discern the divine in one another, and treat each other accordingly, with respect, trust and love.
If we learn to discern ‘something more’ going on in the universe, then it follows we should find the face of God in every person we meet.
A story is told of an old rabbi who once asked his pupils how they could tell when night had ended and the day had begun.
“Could it be,” asked one student, “when you see an animal in the distance and tell whether it is a sheep or a dog?”
“No,” answered the rabbi.
Another asked: “Is it when you can look at a tree in the distance and tell whether it is a fig tree or a peach tree?”
“No,” answered the rabbi.
“Then what is it?” the pupils demanded.
“It is when you can look on the face of any woman or man and see that it is your sister or brother, because if you cannot see this, it is still night.” (Martin Buber)
De Chardin Teilhard, 1960, The Divine Milieu, Harper
De Chardin Teilhard, 1961, Hymn of the Universe, Harper
Hawking S., 1988, A Brief History of Time, Bantam Press
Nagel, T., 2012, Mind and Cosmos,
Rohr R., 2009, The Naked Now, Crossroad Books
Tillich P., 1949, The Shaking of the Foundations, Penguin
Importance of Teilhard in 21st century: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UnCQHIeucNw
Living in the Divine Milieu: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xEHkn32UYMY
Science and Non-duality (Rohr): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MnTC4NNIACk
The Cosmic Christ (Rohr): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8FGObtu-EMI
Did God create the universe? (Hawking): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VuyYGVDCdN0
The Big Picture (Sean Carroll): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2JsKwyRFiYY
Movie: A Theory of Everything, (2014) starring Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones
Pope Francis has so far published three Apostolic Exhortations to all of which he have given joyful titles: The Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium), The Joy of Love (Amoris Laetitiae) and Rejoice and be Glad (Gaudete et Exultate). I want to reflect on the last of these three which is subtitled ‘On the call to holiness in today’s world’.
Despite its joyful title it begins with a comment on a rather joyless condition with which we are all too familiar : mediocrity.
The Pope does not linger on this depressing topic, but perhaps we should give it a thought. When Consecrated Religious discuss their lives the question of mediocrity often arises and usually in a gloomy sort of way. We are too familiar with the dreary profile of a mediocre religious: bored, restless, preoccupied with health issues, careless and indifferent about community observances….and with little or no sense of going anywhere with their spiritual life. [c.f. THE NOONDAY DEVIL Jean-Charles Nault O.S.B.]
Pope Francis is in no doubt that God does want us to settle for such a “bland and mediocre existence”. He is bursting to enthuse us with the joy of holiness.
———————————————————————————————————Chapter One THE CALL TO HOLINESS
From his first chapter of G & E I would highlight three significant points.
- HOLINESS IS PERSONAL:
Yes, there are plenty of examples to inspire us (cf history of holiness: Saints and Blesseds. In chapter one alone Francis refers to Blessed Maria Gabriella Saghuddu O.C.S.O, and Saints John of the Cross Teresa of Avila, Hildegard of Bingen, Bridget, Catherine of Siena, Therese of Lisieux, and Josephne Bakhita, as well as Cardinal Nguyen van Thuan and Leon Bloy) [c.f. also Robert Brron’s Catholicism on the Communion of Saints]
Yes, there are plenty of saints around (the saints -small ‘s’- next door & even in the family).
But in the end each saint is unique.
The theological foundation for G & E is the teaching of the Church (most recently enunciated in VAT 2) on the Universal Call to holiness: “..all the faithful whatever their condition or state, are called by the Lord -each in his or her own way- to that perfect holiness by which the Father himself is perfect” LG 11
Francis is here encouraging us in the face of exotic examples of sanctity which might daunt us: we should not be “hopelessly trying to imitate something not meant for” us (11). He inserts a word of caution about imitation of the saints: “Not everything a saint says is completely faithful to the Gospel; not everything he or she does is authentic or perfect” (22). As each one of us is unique anyway so it is not surprising that our journey into holiness is unique. If holiness in the end is a relationship with God, then sanctity has to be personalized -even if we are called together as one people of God.
Francis shows through homely examples (parents/grandparents/a day in the life of a busy mother) what personalized holiness looks like(16).
c.f. Catholic Women gossip about Gaudete et Exultate. Tina Beattie. Comments on “fantasised life of the middle class housewife” & the difference between humility and humiliations .
- EACH SAINT IS A MISSION
We have been schooled to think of many saints having a specific mission: to found a Religious Order, to highlight a particular need in the Church (Teresa of Kolkata, St Paul V1), to chart a spiritual path (St Therese of Lisieux).
Pope Francis goes a step further and said that each saint is a mission: “Each saint is a mission, planned by the Father to reflect and embody, at a specific moment in history, a certain aspect of the Gospel”. St Faustina highlighted the Gospel value of mercy in a way which has led to a more refined notion of the kind of God we are dealing with! Francis de Sales exemplified the gentleness of Christ, St Bruno explored the contemplative dimension of all Christian living.
When we see our own lives as a mission, it is easier for us to see a meaning to all the things that have happened to us so far in our lives. In the end holiness means letting Jesus live his life and his mission in us: “The Father’s plan is Christ and ourselves in him….it is Christ who loves in us (21). Each one of us can say that we are called to let Jesus live in us, let him preach in us, let him heal in us, let him be in us, to the glory of the Father.
The implications of this “letting Jesus be ….in us” are radical in terms of our focus, our preoccupation, our mind and our heart.
- UNHEALTHY “HOLINESS’
Obviously we often mess up in the course of our journey into God. Pope Francis alerts us to attitudes/practices associated with holiness but which are “fake”.
- i) “It is not healthy to love silence while fleeing interaction with others, to want peace and quiet while avoiding activity, to seek prayer while disdaining service”(26).
Our trouble is that so often we fail to live in close, intimate and living contact with the source of the only true Life and so we think that “being holy” is a constant choice between “solitude” and “service”, between “silence” and “speech” (between “the cloister and the hearth”). We do not know how to live “in conspectu Domini” , in the presence of God. In this context we are reminded of the interplay between “holiness” and ” wholeness”. The knowledge that Christian life is a mission unites all we are and do into the greater plan of God, letting Christ live his life in us.
- ii) “Needless to say, anything done out of anxiety, pride or the need to impress others will not lead to holiness”(28). One of the great insights of Abbe Guilerand (O. Carth. -author of THEY SPEAK BY SILENCES, THE PRAYER OF THE PRESENCE OF GOD etc) which has shaped generations of his readers is apt here:
To love is to give oneself
To give oneself is to forget oneself
DO THIS AND LIFE IS YOURS (Luke 10: 28).
iii) The illusion that the we can use contemporary devices to expedite the journey of holiness can dim the joy of the inner life. Francis uses a strange expression about these contemporary devices; they can “denature” our spiritual experiences (30). He has noticed a flagging in zeal and in the spirit of service when our devices control us rather than vice-versa.
Pope Francis concludes this opening chapter with the memorable words of Leon Bloy (1846-1917): The only great tragedy in life , is not to become a saint.
Chapter Two TWO SUBTLE ENEMIES OF HOLINESS
Pope Francis identifies a new form of GNOSTICISM as a subtle enemy of holiness. What does he mean?
“Gnosis” is a Greek word for “knowledge” and Gnosticism generally refers to a religious movement which spanned both Judaism and early Christianity. In its Christian form it maintained that enlightenment and salvation depends on a privileged knowledge of God from secret tradition and revelations. Some early gnostics held that this secret knowledge was given to the apostles by the Risen Christ.
Ancient agnosticism got an unexpected revival with the discovery of a collection of gnostic texts in 1945 in Egypt (at Nag Hammadi). These texts confirm the opinion that Gnosticism was not a coherent body of thought and not a specific group. From the random texts it can be deduced that:
gnosticism was based on claims about secret knowledge about the divinity
gnosticism also involved secret knowledge about creation & the human predicament
gnosticism had a strong anti-world dimension and its goal was to escape this world
gnosticism had a tendency to merge divine/created, spiritual/material….
So-called gnostic spirituality was given a boost by some of the writings of C.G. Jung and finds contemporary expression in New Age thinking. Pope Francis sees it creeping into the Church.
“A new form of gnosticism puts forward a model of salvation that is merely interior, closed off in its own subjectivism. In this model, salvation consists in elevating oneself with the intellect beyond “the flesh of Jesus towards the mysteries of unknown divinity”. It thus presumes to liberate the human person from the body and from the material universe” [Placuit Deo 3 2018 ]
When we encounter the mind-set which places knowledge above love, exact and precise formulations above living and dynamic experiences, we are dealing with an attempt to “control God’s transcendence”(41). With so much emphasis placed on secret knowledge, gnosticism is likely to undermine the mystery of the Incarnation of the Word and to undervalue our human struggles, doubts and inquiries.
St Paul insisted that our “knowledge is imperfect” (1 Cor. 13:9) but for the gnostic everything is perfectly comprehensible: there is no room for questions: “When somebody has an answer for every question, it is sign that they are not on the right road: (41).
It seems to me that the neo-gnostic mentality is particularly detectable in the field of spirituality and in a fundamentalist version of spirituality. The elitist knowledge and rigid adherence to a religious logic which excludes all diversity breeds a fake spirituality.
Fake holiness is also, at time, an expression of contemporary Pelagianism. Pelagius was a British monk who taught theology and Exegesis in Rome in the late 4th and early 5th century. His teaching emphasised the importance of personal responsibility, the need to take discipleship very seriously, and the role of asceticism in the spiritual life.
As it developed Pelagianism came to rely more and more on human effort, the role of the will (rather than the intellect), and self-improvement. In the end, full-blown Pelagianism means that we can save ourselves; Jesus is an excellent teacher and a perfect example…but we can save ourselves.
Because Pelagianism placed the onus for salvation on the individual , there was no need for “originating sin/ancestral flaw”, no strict need for grace, no sense in infant baptism. Good work alone suffices.
Although roundly condemned at various Councils (Carthage 411, Milevis 416, Carthage 418 and Orange 529), Pelaganism had a habit of resurfacing from time to time in the middle ages. Bouts of this heresy focussed on the dominance of WORKS, issues of sin/redemption, freedom/determinism, human/divine.
A visit to the self-help shelves of our bookshops shows how stubborn Pelagianism remains. Seven-steps to this and Four steps to that, proclaim the power of the Do-it-Yourself ethos, the power of the human will and how we can all pull ourselves up by our bootstraps.
A new form of Pelagianism is spreading in our days. one in which the individual, understood to be radically autonomous, presumes to save oneself, without recognising that at the deepest level of being, he or she derives from God and from others. According to this way of thinking, salvation depends on the strength of the individual or on purely human structures, which are incapable of welcoming the newness of the Spirit of God. [ Placuit Deo 3]
Translated into the experience of the Church today, Francis sees evidence of the new Pelagains in “an obsession with the law, an absorption with social and political advantages, a punctilious concern for the Church’s liturgy, doctrine and prestige, a vanity about the ability to manage practical matters and an excessive concern with programmes of self-help and personal fulfilment (self-esteem) (57).
A vivid counter instance to this neoPelagianism is St Therese of Lisieux and her spirituality “Tout est grace/Everything is grace”. [sufficit tibi gratia mea]
Having alerted us to two false paths, Pope Francis turns attention to what really matters in the quest for holiness.
Chapter Three IN THE LIGHT OF THE MASTER
- The Beatitudes
The third (and middle) chapter of G & E gets to the heart of the matter. In introducing his letter Francis made clear that he did not intend to write a treatise on holiness with definitions and distinctions, analyses of methods etc..but to rouse in us a longing for holiness and to be very practical.
His chosen way of going about this is clear in chapter 3: if you want help in being holy, immerse yourself in the Gospel Beatitudes, the Christian I D. In the Liturgy we pray “all life all holiness comes from You” and when it comes it has a distinctive profile spelt out for us in the words of Jesus (Mt 5:3-12 and Lk 6:20-23).
What is Holiness ?
“Being poor of heart: that is holiness”: Francis offers a way into praying with the first beatitude. He invites us to ask where do I find my security in life? Am I only content if I am healthy, with the prospect of a long life, with my reputation/popularity untarnished and my financial outlook secure? But the Christian I D is about a simplicity of life, an inner freedom for the things of the Spirit and a childlike trust in God.
“Reacting with gentleness: that is holiness” Gospel (Evangelical) poverty can only flourish with the gentleness that goes with a profound trust in God. This gift of the Spirit, identified with the anawim of the OT, is really an inner strength that is secure and safe , emerging from the reality of Christ living within. It is seen in one’s personal style, even in one’s speech and gestures.
“Knowing how to weep with others: that is holiness”. While awkwardness and embarrassment often mark our encounters with the bereaved or those suffering from significant trauma, Francis teaches us “not to flee from painful situations”. To mourn in Christ -or better, to let Christ mourn in us- is a dimension of holiness which leads to biblical lamentation, not only over death, but over sin and over evil of any kind. At the heart of such mourning is Christ and his Spirit, the Comforter. Holy Christians “sense that the other is flesh of our flesh, and are not afraid to draw near, even to touch their wounds” (76) [ Cardinal Tagle on touching the wounds of Jesus in the wounded of the world}.
“Hungering and thirsting for justice: that is holiness” To seek justice with the raw appetite which real hunger/thirst induces, is something rare. Francis worries about people getting mired in the very corruption which drives them to seek justice. Alertness to the vulnerable of our society and responding to their needs is a form of hungering and thirsting for justice. There should be no real conflict between working for justice and living a deep interior life in Christ.
“Seeing and acting with mercy: that is holiness” Jesus continues his ministry of mercy in us and through us. Holiness is letting his mercy through seventy times seven. We have had a torrent of inspirational writings and examples throughout the Year of Mercy: receiving and giving, giving and forgiving. This yard-stick is for everyone and “in every case” (CCC 1789).
“Keeping a heart free of all that tarnishes love: that is holiness” Holiness has to do with the heart -the inner core of one’s being, the genuineness of the person -through and through. The heart of Christ is not only the “ideal” but also the real heart of our hearts: it is his heart that alone can so purify us as to see God.
Such a harmony of hearts (our weak hearts and Christ’s holy heart) is to be guarded with all vigilance: “Fill your minds with everything that is true, everything that is noble, everything that is good and pure…”(Philippians 4:8).
This beatitude connects immediately with the classical devotion to the heart of Christ
“Sowing peace all around us: that is holiness” The horizons of peace/war can be global…..but on a day to day basis they are very personal. Pope Francis reflecting on this beatitude repeats his vigorous denunciation of gossip, using his analogy of a bomb thrown into a crowd (footnote 73). Making peace, he says, “demands serenity, creativity, sensitivity and skill”(89).
“Accepting daily the path of the Gospel, even though it may cause us problems: that is holiness” The harmless word “problems” which Francis uses here embraces everything from annoying jibes to martyrdom. The cost of discipleship (of letting Jesus live his life in us) is not trivial, whether we think of public attacks on believers or the inner persecutions we may have to endure. We find there is no by-pass around the Cross. The Cross remains the source of our growth and sanctification.
B The Great Criterion
Matthew 25 (31-46; and in particular 40 & 45) enunciates the great criterion:
for our judgement
“In so far a you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me”.
“In so far as you neglected to do this to one of the least of these, you neglected to do it to me”.
Authentic Christian lives, authentic Christian prayer, authentic Christian holiness depends “on what we have done for others” (104 & 105)
In the course of arriving at this articulation of the Great Criterion, Pope France warns about two tendencies which can blur the clarity of the Gospel:
- i) the tendency to separate personal prayer life from outreach to others, thus making Christianity like a NGO (language, planning , treating people); hence the preoccupation of Catholic spiritual writer to hold in creative tension the work of contemplation with the works of justice, peace and reconciliation (and integrity of creation)
- ii) the tendency to be a “one issue” Christian, to the neglect of other critical issues.
Remarks in 101 have caused controversy in Pro-Life circles. While Francis is clear, firm and passionate about the value and dignity of every human life, he also describes the lives of the poor..destitute..abandoned..migrants…”equally sacred”.
Pro-Life must be expanded to include all life “True support for life cannot be limited to isolated moments of its existence, but must also promote the conditions of justice and peace” (Francis to the Academy of Life).
[c.f. What did Pope Francis means when he said the unborn and the poor are equally sacred? (America Magazine)]
Chapter four SIGNS OF HOLINESS IN TODAY’S WORLD
In contrast to what he calls “ersatz spirituality” Pope Francis offer five signs of holiness in today’s world
- Perseverance, Patience and Gentleness
- Joy and a sense of humour
- Boldness and Passion.
- In Community
- In Constant Prayer
- Gentleness The decisions of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarch, Tawadros, on the quality of religious life (and the avoidance of social media) brought me back to Francis on “Verbal violence” in par 115. There he deplores the current media culture which “completely ignores the eighth commandment” (115 &116). He develops his critique of violence noting some subtle forms of violence (always trying to teach others lessons/bullying etc 117).
- In Community
Francis makes two strong points worthy of our reflection:
- i) Growth in holiness is a growth in community. We are one Body, One Spirit in Christ and therefore it is not surprising that Holy Communion should make Holy Communities.
Francis give some historical examples of such Holy Communities (Seven Holy Founders O.S.M. communities of martyrs including the monks of Tibhirine, Algeria). But we should think about our communities (Religious/ Families etc). We might ask ourselves, is my community a “God-enlightened space in which to experience the hidden presence of the risen Lord” (142)?. If we share the Word and the Eucharist, must not that make us holy communities?
- ii) Real communities involve lots of “small everyday things” (143). Attention to “the little details of love” (145) reveals the presence of the Risen Lord among us. Jesus teaches us delicate attention –
-to the wine running out
-to the one missing sheep
-to the two small coins
details, which colour daily life in community, details of which life is made up and details which are the stuff of holiness.
Like each one of us, each community is a mission, each community is called to holiness, each community will be judged by the Great Criterion!
- In constant prayer
Two things stand out in Pope Francis’ signs of holiness, both referring to the vocation/call to prayer:
(i) The place of memory in prayer: it is good that our prayer be interwoven with memories: “We think back not only on his revealed Word, but also on our own lives, the lives of others, and all that the Lord has done in his Church” (153). Identifying this as the “grateful memory“, it means that we should cherish own our history of grace, drawing inspiration from what God has already done for us and seeing that as a motive for joyful expectation of good things to come.
The role of ‘grateful memory’ would surely apply also to the prayer life of the community; opportunities for the community to treasure its spiritual history and give thanks for graces and blessing of the past, will have a similar good effect on the present prayer life of the community.
(ii) The significance of intercessory prayer. Pope Francis sees intercessory prayer as an expression of our fraternal care for others (154). This dimension of prayer has a low profile in contemporary presentations on prayer but it is a vivid expression of our trust in God and of our love for others.
Chapter 5 SPIRITUAL COMBAT, VIGILANCE AND DISCERNMENT
- i) Spiritual Combat & Vigilance: whatever confusion surrounded press reports of the Pope’s conversations with Professor (?) Scalfari, there can be no doubt about Francis’ views on the devil. In the first part of this last chapter of his Exhortation we learn the pope’s vocabulary addressing the spiritual combat: the devil, the evil one, the prince of evil, the poisoner. “We should not think of the devil as a myth, a representation, a symbol, a figure of speech”(161). He is “a personal being who assails us”(160).
The Scalfari conversations. Professor Scalfari is an 93 year old atheist and founder of La Republica, a centre-left newspaper. He has had a number of conversations with Pope Francis after which he publishes his version of the conversations. It is accepted that neither partner makes notes and the Vatican has been at pains to distance Francis from Scalfari’s recent claims that Francis dismissed the notion of “hell” (among other strange claims).
What directly concerns our call to holiness is the wake-up call Francis sounds about how we may have fallen under the sway of the evil one: if we are not bothered by mediocrity, lethargy of the spirit, lukewarmness, rigidity, a draining away of zeal and spiritual corruption (which he calls a “self-satisfied form of blindness” 165).
The Bible, though very restrained about it) is unambiguous about the existence of SATANOS/DIABOLOS:
- i) the opponent of God’s plan for humanity (the serpent)
- ii) the opponent of Jesus (temptations)
iii) the opponent of Christians (temptation)
- iv) Apocalyptic struggle between Christos and Satanos.
- ii) Discernment: The Jesuit Pope is very much at home dealing with this aspect of the call to holiness. Rooted in the Ignation tradition, Pope Francis offers a mini-lesson in the New Testament counsel: “Test everything” (1 Thess 5:21).
Francis teaches that the gift of discernment is needed not just for major life-changing decisions, but all the time, for every decision bearing on our call to holiness. He introduces the notion of God’s timetable (169) and God’s patience (174) which bear on our daily lives.
There are three tools in Francis’ approach to discernment:
- a) Listening : to God, to others, to reality around us.
- b) Daily examination of conscience*
- c) Silence :”we cannot do without the silence of prolonged prayer”(171)